Since the Watergate scandal in the 1970s each new discovery of an act of institutional misconduct seems to result in it being reported as a ‘gate’. In line with this the emissions scandal that began last year is now called ‘dieselgate’ and has again this month been discussed in the European Parliament.
Work has been ongoing by the European Parliament’s committee of inquiry trying to shed light on the shortcomings and mistakes that led to the discovery last September that the Volkswagen Group had been tampering with laboratory emissions testing. Cars that had complied with emissions regulations in the laboratory were found to be exceeding these standards on the road.
In the United States Volkswagen announced plans to rectify the emissions issues by refitting the affected vehicles as part of a recall campaign and to address the issue of the depreciated value of the 500,000 cars affected owners were been offered compensation or the option to sell their vehicle back to Volkswagen.
But in the EU, after almost a year after the scandal broke some member countries are continuing to drag their feet on the investigation and failing to recall and fix the affected cars. It appears that some member countries are unwilling to act in fear of upsetting car manufacturers.
While happy with the Commission’s promise that infringement procedures will be opened against some of these member states in the coming months, Labour MEPs believe that we need a harmonised and coordinated European recall programme to protect citizens’ health and to deliver to consumers. It has become clear that the European Commission has more than enough information regarding the use of defeat devices by the car industry, but is failing to look into the issue further and warnings that vehicles built by a wide range of car makers could have been using, and are continue to use defeat devices to cheat emissions tests are still being ignored.
While clearly an issue of consumer protection, this also flies in the face of the EU’s comprehensive and well-established policy of environmental protection. The environmental standards set by EU are among the strictest in the world with legislation designed to achieve more than 130 environmental targets and objectives to be met between 2010 and 2050. The EU is the world leader in efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change. If the environmental services had been responsible for the development and enforcement of cars emission legislation (as they are for the environmental legislation for other sectors), the failure to detect and ban defeat devices might not have taken place.
There is clearly a need to establish a transparent certification system which is totally independent and far from any conflict of interests, with effective monitoring and surveillance mechanisms at a European level. Whatever the trade implications post Brexit we will continue to see a wide variety of cars on our roads and we will need to establish effective cooperation and monitoring mechanisms to prevent such a scandal happening again.