Commission discusses VW scandal with Parliament

On Wednesday, the European Commission presented the state of play on the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal to the ENVI Committee.

By Erik Tate

24 Sep 2015

Giovanni La Via (EPP, IT) said that this was an important discussion, and noted that in amendment 7 of their resolution the Committee had asked to know more about real driving emissions. The Commission is working in this field, but they are now aware of this scandal. There are set of objections from the United States, but they would like to more about what the situation is in the European Union and whether the same problem exists and whether other producers may have the same problem.


Joanna Szychowska, Head of Unit for Automotive and Mobility Industries in DG GROWTH, said that she understood the interest of the European Parliament in this case, and was therefore happy to present the state of play, explained has been done so far and outlined the plans for action. The Commission is extremely concerned about what has happened, she said, and it is determined to get to the bottom of this, discover what the implications and decide what will be necessary.

The Commission has made immediate contact with the United States’ authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency. It has also made contact with Volkswagen and the German Type-Approval Authority (KBA). Volkswagen is now undertaking an internal investigation and has agreed to meet the Commission in the coming days to present the initial results. Today it is premature to say whether Volkswagen cars in Europe are also affected and whether they should be taking any specific market surveillance measures, she explained.

The European Union has already strict limited established nitrogen oxides (NOx) produced during combustion, and these have been set up in EU law. Indeed, stricter limits entered into force last month. She said that they are not concerned about the stringency of these limits, because they are rather talking about the type-approval systems which put safe cars and those that pass the emission limits on the market. These have been harmonised at the EU-level but has a decentralised framework. The Commission has long-known that the laboratory tests are often not accurate.

Ms Szychowska explained that there would be a package being presented in the coming months which would allow for the emission limits to be reflected on the road. In terms of market surveillance, the system is decentralised and therefore up to Member States to ensure that type-approval is managed and to remove cars from the market. However, the Commission is aware that further adjustments are needed.

A number of Member States have started their own investigations – Germany, France and Italy – and the Commission is cooperating with them to learn about what has happened and to exchange this information. It has also organised a meeting of the type-approval authorities in the EU, and this is what they intend to do in the coming days.


Peter Liese (EPP, DE) said that this is a problem which is about human health. The emissions values are not there simply to annoy people; it is because the emissions are dangerous. There is a directive on air cleanliness and where there are higher values in the municipalities a clean-up operation has to take place. The producers at Volkswagen have put people in a difficult, he said, and asked if the Commission was sure that this is just a Volkswagen problem. He noted that the few months ago he received information from an organisation saying that controls are generally more stringent in the United States, and that there are many more tricks in Europe because the Americans check more than we do. He noted that NOx is the current standard, but there are also problems surrounding fuel consumption and CO2. Everybody knows that cars use more fuel than during the test cycle, so there also need to be more stringent tests for this.


Matthias Groote (S&D, DE) said that nowhere are there more lies and tricks than in this kind of test, and that this is nothing new. He wondered whether the Commission has carried out checks in the field, and if not then why not. He asked if they could get more information on the driving cycle, and when they would be able to get something more feasible and reliable. This is not just a one-off, he said, as there have always been rumours surrounding this. Finally, he asked who had been doing the testing and who was responsible for this in the European Commission.


Julie Girling (ECR, UK) noted that this was discussed very recently in the ENVI Committee and it voted on air quality legislation, but makes it clear to everyone that the European Union has a completely different system to the United States. In Europe the type-approval process does not lead to the results that they should, and the Commission’s statistic themselves show this – this has been known for some time. Unless the Commission comes forward with new invigorated tests reflecting real-world driving conditions, she suggested that they move towards a US-style surveillance system. She asked if the Commission admitted that the approval process in fundamentally flawed and whether it is fit for purpose. The industry has been dragging its feet, she said, and this does not just apply to diesel cars. There are also issues with petrol cars and rules for these could be improved rather than just demonising one type of vehicle. 


Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE, FI) said that the Volkswagen scandal is only now waking them up to take a more serious view on the rules and control of emissions. In terms of rules, there is a big gap between them and the reality, and this gap needs to be bridges in order to restore trust and confidence. It is deplorable that they have only just voted for more credible tests based on driving performance now that they are being faced with this. Good air quality is a right for all, she said, and in order to make the right choices there need to be more facts to check whether the marketing speeches are accurate.

On the TTIP negotiations she thought it was a positive thing to only have one control system, but they have underestimated the US system and perhaps it is useful to have both because the EU is looking after its own industry even if it destroys nature. This will certainly have an impact on the TTIP negotiations, she said, and expected this issue to be fully clarified, the necessary actions taken, and measures to make sure that it does not happen again. 




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