28 Jan 2016   |   News

EU calls for greater enforcement powers in wake of VW dieselgate scandal

The European Commission wants to fine carmakers up to €30,000 for rigged vehicles, carry out roadside spot checks and make emissions testing labs independent of the industry

Four months after cheating revelations at Volkswagen rocked Germany, the EU has proposed new rules for assessing car emissions in Europe, saying tests should only be carried out by independent labs, the software protocols should be public and there should be roadside spot checks.

Car manufacturers would no longer pay the test laboratory directly, to avoid potential conflicts of interest, and laboratories that break the rules would have rights to certify the emissions of new cars withdrawn.

The Commission also wants powers to recall vehicles that breach the stated emissions and to carry out spot checks on the road. It would also oblige vehicle manufacturers to disclose software protocols.

At the moment tests carried out at a national level are then valid across Europe. The EU does not currently have the powers to act against any single nation, but under the new proposal the Commission would be able to fine carmakers, if a national government has not. These fines would amount to €30,000 per vehicle on the market.

The new plan to test the level of smog-causing pollution being emitted from car exhausts will apply to all countries in the EU. “We have to make sure this never happens again,” said Jyrki Katainen, a Commission Vice President.

“We need to tighten the rules but also to ensure they are effectively observed. It is essential to restore a level playing field and fair competition in the market.”

There was immediately some resistance to the Commission proposal, which must still be approved by national governments and the European Parliament.

Daniel Dalton, a British centre-right MEP said, “I fear that the EU has looked to the USA's federal-level Environmental Protection Agency and said, 'I want one of those'. By launching a power grab with a new army of EU clipboard inspectors, the European Commission is undermining its own objective." 

But Monique Goyens, director general of The European Consumer Organisation welcomed the Commission proposal. “The proposal to conduct random tests on cars is much needed, and if implemented well, should deter against cheating,” she said. “It is crucial that the cosy relationship between car makers, national authorities and testing services is broken up.”

Last September, the US Environmental Protection Agency uncovered so called defeat devices in use by Volkswagen to manipulate emissions tests on several of its diesel car models. These consist of software that is able to recognise a vehicle is being run under laboratory conditions and to optimise emissions accordingly.

The German carmaker faces fines, lawsuits stretching several years into the future and recall costs that could run into billions.

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