Angela Merkel named as member states are blamed for lax regulation of car emissions
By Mike Yuille | 1 December 2015
“It seems clear that some commissioners knew about fraud in emissions testing in the automotive industry back in 2012” – Michael Cramer, German Green MEP
MEPs are lining up to condemn the European Commission and member states for lax regulation of car emissions that led to the Volkswagen scandal.
The German government, headed since 2005 by Angela Merkel as chancellor, is accused of pressuring both the EC and regulators not to be too tough on its car makers. VW is one of three German-based companies that are among the 12 biggest car makers in the world.
Vicky Ford, a British Conservative MEP, slammed VW for cheating emissions tests. As chairwoman of the European Parliament’s committee on the internal market and consumer protection, she is one of the key MEPs with the authority to raise sharp questions about the EC’s role in the VW scandal.
She told Exaro: “This company has broken the law in the most despicable manner. I think that it is extremely important to have an investigation into who knew what, and when.”
She heads one of three committees that, she said, are pressing the EC to explain who knew what and when about the emissions scandal. The other two committees cover transport and environment.
A VW spokesman declined to comment.
Meanwhile, environmental regulators in America are fuming over what they see as weak regulation of the car industry in Europe.
A senior official at one US regulator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It has been the general leniency of the European Union on regulatory standards that may have allowed VW to think that they could get away with this fraud on emissions testing.”
America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed in September that VW was using “defeat devices” in diesel engines – software to cheat emissions tests.
Merkel even complained five years ago to the director of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Mary Nichols, that its tough limits on nitrogen oxide were “hurting” German car makers.
A CARB spokesman confirmed that the extraordinary exchange took place at a meeting in 2010 in Beverly Hills, which was also attended by California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Exaro can also reveal that the Green group in the European Parliament, along with allied parties in the European Free Alliance, is hoping to secure a vote as soon as tomorrow for a sweeping inquiry into allegations of regulatory failings by the EC and member states.
A previous attempt to hold an inquiry focussed on VW failed last month.
Rebecca Harms, a German Green MEP, told Exaro: “With evidence continuing to emerge that the European Commission is also implicated in the scandal, it is essential that the European Parliament assumes responsibility for this investigation of the problems and the consequences.”
Harms, co-chairwoman of the Greens and the European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, is hoping for support from a wider coalition of Liberal, Social Democrat and left-wing parties, for the proposed “committee of inquiry”.
She said that nearly 180 MEPs had signed the motion, which is the number needed to force a vote tomorrow.
“There is a glaring need for a proper investigation into the car pollution scandal,” she said in a statement calling on MEPs of other parties to support the proposal.
The VW scandal was, she said, “only the tip of the iceberg of a much wider problem of regulatory failure”.
However, the Conservatives’ Ford is not backing this inquiry call. “A committee of inquiry is not the way to do it, because it does not have the legal powers given to the normal parliamentary committees,” she said.
A German Green MEP, Michael Cramer, heads one of the other key European parliamentary committees, and backs the proposed special inquiry.
Cramer, chairman of the committee on transport and tourism, told Exaro: “The European Commission says that it only noticed claims about emissions cheating this year, but it seems clear that some commissioners knew about fraud in emissions testing in the automotive industry back in 2012.”
He blames powerful lobbying by the continent’s car makers, combined with weak and fragmented regulation in Europe, for failures over meeting emissions standards.
“The problem is that the automotive industry is too dominant,” he said. “They thought that they are so strong and powerful that they could dictate to politicians.”
He added: “But now, they have to pay the bill.”
Update 2 December 2015: The motion was postponed after the socialist and liberal groups in the European Parliament said that they back the call for an inquiry in principle, but wanted to consider the proposal.
If the two groups, along with the Greens and allied parties in the European Free Alliance, agree on the motion, they would easily pass the 180 MEPs needed for a vote. The three groups represent more than 40 per cent of MEPs, and the Greens are still hoping to win support from other political parties.
The committee of presidents, made up of chairmen of the eight political groups in the European parliament, will consider on December 17 whether to put the motion to MEPs.
Update 17 December 2015: MEPs this morning voted for the proposed committee of inquiry by the European Parliament. There were 354 votes in favour, 229 against and 35 abstentions.