Dieselgate: Outside of the EU, nobody is interested in diesel technology, argues Bas Eickhout

Written by Bas Eickhout on 12 September 2017 in Opinion

Greens MEP says the European Commission should introduces plans to ensure compliance of environmental standards.

Bas Eickhout | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

The Greens/EFA group demanded a debate on dieselgate this week, the inevitable choice after a very poor summer, where one diesel-related story popped up after the other like scandals in a daily soap opera.  

We are now two years on from when the diesel scandal first appeared in the media.

Even then, there was already evidence of years’ worth of clear discrepancies between real world driving conditions and laboratory testing of pollutant emissions.


Research from NGOs and academics has shown that severe air pollution causes hundreds of thousands of premature deaths every year in Europe. Now, half a year after the final report of the European Parliament's inquiry committee came out, with harsh criticism on both the role of the European Commission and especially member states, no lessons seem to have been learnt.

Even after accusations of a cartel and an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office into EIB-loans that went into VW defeat device software, we are still not seeing real solutions, only electoral damage control from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The German government organised a high-profile national diesel summit with an agreement that car manufacturers would make software updates for some 5.3 million cars, but this is completely insufficient.

The German environment ministry certainly seems to agree - they issued a strong critique two weeks later. Merkel also promised cities extra funding for the fight against air quality problems, out of fear for a diesel ban in several German cities. But we know fine well that money will not solve any of the cities' air pollution problems; only real retrofits to the current European car fleet will make a difference.

While many other European countries excel in inactivity, Germany is a prime example, showing the problem at the core: we have around 35 million dirty diesel cars on European streets, still driving around at this very moment.

"By coming up with half measures, member states threaten to de facto legalise the existing car fleet, which is the main reason cities breach European air quality levels on a big scale"

35 million cars that don’t meet the legal European requirements and are therefore breaching EU legislation. By coming up with half measures, member states threaten to de facto legalise the existing car fleet, which is the main reason cities breach European air quality levels on a big scale.

Seeing this in a wider context, this inaction by member states is absolutely undermining the core of EU environmental law. If we do not monitor and enforce our own legislation, why bother making it in the first place?

To avoid ending up with a variety of different insufficient solutions from different member states, the European Commission should come forward with repair standards for the existing diesel fleet in Europe, which exceed European standards, in a procedure which respects the Union legal regime.

This will give clear guidance to member states - even the ones reluctant to act - and will give the Commission easy leverage in case of inaction by some of these member states. On top of this, it is essential that the European Commission introduces proposals for Union level inspections to ensure compliance with the Union regulations for all environmental standards.

Many policymakers are afraid that by phasing out diesel we will ruin the once impressive car industry in Europe. But even the most conservative politicians have to be honest with themselves: outside of the EU, nobody is interested in diesel technology.

If we make an effort for a swift shift to an industry that is focusing on real clean technology, we will be much more able to provide opportunities for industry and jobs than if we desperately hang onto what is already lost.

About the author

Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL) is a member of Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee

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