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EU seeks more power over car approval after VW scandal

A ‘major overhaul’ of the way in which cars are approved for sale in Europe on safety and environmental grounds has today (January 27) been set out by the European Commission in response to last year’s VW emissions scandal.

The EPA has announced fresh allegations of defeat devices in Volkswagen cars in the US

The VW emissions scandal has prompted the Commission to rethink how it monitors the approval of cars for sale across the EU

New legislative proposals for the EU’s so-called type approval framework for motor vehicles have been tabled by the Commission in order “to ensure car manufacturers comply with all EU safety, environmental and production requirements”.

According to the Commission, the proposals will make vehicle testing more independent – by avoiding financial links between technical services and manufacturers – and increase surveillance of cars already in circulation.

The Commission would be given more power to initiate vehicle recalls across the EU, carry out spot-checks on the road and to impose fines on car manufacturers for non-compliance which could be as high as €30,000 per vehicle.

The draft Regulation will now be sent to the European Parliament and Council for adoption, and once adopted will be directly applicable. But, it is likely to face opposition from Member States and the car industry lobby.

The European Commission’s vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness – Jyrki Katainen – said: “In a single market where goods circulate freely, everyone must play by the rules. The Volkswagen revelations have highlighted that the system which allows cars to be placed on the market needs further improvement.”

He added: “To regain customers’ trust in this important industry, we need to tighten the rules but also ensure they are effectively observed. It is essential to restore a level playing field and fair competition in the market.”

Current rules

Under current type-approval rules, national authorities are solely responsible for certifying that a vehicle meets all requirements to be places on the market and for policing manufacturers’ compliance with EU law.

It is based on ‘mutual trust’, as once a car is certified in one Member State, it can then freely circulate throughout the EU.

This was the case in September 2015 when German carmaker Volkswagen admitted that it had cheated emissions tests for certain models of its diesel cars, after which concerns were raised by some about the way in which national authorities were policing emissions tests.

The Commission said the new rules it has tabled today will therefore “introduce greater European oversight that will strengthen the system as a whole and will complement efforts to introduce more robust emissions testing – Real Driving Emissions (RDE) testing”.

It comes ahead of a key vote next week (February 3) in the European Parliament on whether to accept new RDE emissions testing rules agreed by Member States with the aim of strengthening tests.

However, critics such as the UK’s Catherine Bearder MEP have suggested the proposals will allow carmakers to double the currently permitted level of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from cars from 2019.

But, welcoming the Commission’s new type-approval proposals today, she said: “Dieselgate has shown that national authorities are either incapable or unwilling to enforce the rules they have signed up to. Stronger oversight of the car industry is vital to ensure standards to cut deadly pollution are upheld across Europe. This is about restoring public trust in the industry and protecting people’s health.”

‘Lacks teeth’

The Commission’s “good proposal” was also broadly welcomed by Transport & Environment, although the European NGO’s clean vehicles director Greg Archer said they were also “inadequate” for ensuring national type approval authorities are “robust and independent”.

Mr Archer said: “This good proposal addresses many flaws in the current car testing system but lacks teeth. The principal reason why Volkswagen managed to get away with cheating in Europe was the lack of independence of national authorities, which were compromised by their cosy relationship with carmakers.

“Without the threat of future EU sanctions, it will be mission impossible to break the strong bond between national regulators and their carmakers that has protected the industry but at the cost of higher emissions.”

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