EU Lawmakers Split Over Way Forward on Emissions Testing

Debate continues as to how much automakers and state governments should be allowed to control type-approval testing.

Sara Lewis

October 4, 2016

4 Min Read
Dalton proposals put emphasis on catching violators through onroad testing
Dalton proposals put emphasis on catching violators through on-road testing.Getty Images

BRUSSELS – European Union lawmakers in a key European Parliament committee are split over how to amend proposed reforms to the 28-country bloc’s automotive type-approval controls.

Members of the parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer-Protection committee last week debated changes suggested by British Conservative MEP Dan Dalton to the proposed overhaul of EU type-approval rules to make sure they are tight enough to prevent a repeat of the Volkswagen-triggered Dieselgate emissions scandal.

Dalton has been charged with coordinating the committee’s response to the European Commission proposal, but his suggested changes have not been welcomed by many committee members and it is unclear how many will survive.

Dalton proposes paring back the plan that would give the EC greater oversight in compliance testing, replacing it with a peer-review system and “forum on enforcement” in which member states continue to have the upper hand. His amendments also would extend the length for type-approval validation from the five years the EC has proposed to eight years.

Dalton further wants to delete plans for a proposed new fee structure, whereby automakers would pay national type-approval authorities, which then would pay the test houses. That would be a departure from the current method, seen as a conflict of interest and blamed for contributing to the Dieselgate scandal, in which manufacturers pay the testing companies directly.

Dalton questions whether the EC has the capacity to deal directly with the testing, instead advocating requirements for member states to fund market surveillance in the form of on-road testing.

“If someone is going to cheat, they’re going to cheat,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what system you start from. There is no model that (would have) stopped VW. VW managed to get around every single system in the world.”

A switch to real-driving emissions testing using on-car portable emissions measurement devices “would have been far more likely to catch Volkswagen,” he adds.

The European Parliament’s largest political group, the center-right European People’s Party, remains divided on the Dalton proposals.

German EPP member Andreas Schwab backs Dalton’s bid to protect national turf and tweak the current system, arguing: “We can’t just turn things on their head from one day to the next.”

He acknowledges the EU needs to do something, “but we need to be realistic.”

'Cut That Umbilical Cord'

However, his Polish EPP colleague Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein says the Dalton proposal “moves closer in the direction of maintaining the status quo and that’s not what we want. We need a change and we need boldness to achieve a change.”

The parliament should not weaken the EC proposal but strengthen it, she adds. “Let’s help them to act and give them more competence. Maybe a new agency?”

On the left, Danish Socialist and Democrat Christel Schaldemose makes it clear her group does not back Dalton, telling him: “You don’t reform, you just keep more or less the present system.” Schaldemose stresses Europe needs to learn from Dieselgate and: “giving responsibility to member states is clearly not good enough – we have seen that so far.”

French Green MEP Pascal Durand backs greater Commission oversight and favors severing “this umbilical cord between member state governments and their car industries. Europe is the only (authority) we can expect to be independent and cut that umbilical cord.”

Italian MEP Marco Zullo, from the populist Five Star Movement, agrees. “If the French government owns 20% of shares in Renault, how can they possibly apply pressure to them? The same goes for the Italian government and its historic links with Fiat.”

Joanna Szychowska, head of the EC’s Automotive and Mobility Industries unit says the EC “is extremely worried” about the Dalton amendments, which she said would undermine the reforms. “We are not just talking about changing the rules, we are talking about changing the mindset” among regulators, industry and the Commission itself.

Szychowska insists the EC wants a decentralized system, but where “those 28 member states act as if they were one.

“We are not here to replace the role of any of the member states,” she adds. “The Commission’s job is to oversee member states – it’s not doing the job for the member states. Let’s be very clear about that.”

Szychowska defends the proposed fee structure, saying it ensures adequate funding for market surveillance. The proposal has automakers facing the biggest levy, although that could change, she says. “But we wouldn’t like to end up with a situation where just because there’s not enough money the system adopted cannot be enforced.”

A spokesperson for ACEA, the European automakers association, tells WardsAuto the organization backs the key objectives in the Commission’s proposal “to strengthen market surveillance and to improve the current system, as well as further harmonizing it.”

But the group also “shares the main objective” of the Dalton report, “the wish for a more robust system that works well without being burdensome,” the spokesperson adds. “To that end, ACEA welcomes any suggestions to further strengthen the internal market in the most cost-effective manner and to safeguard the environmental and safety performance of motor vehicles.”

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