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EU dieselgate inquiry kicks-off as chair is elected

12-month car emissions inquiry gets underway as Volkswagen releases latest statement on its own inquiry into the scandal

The EU inquiry into alleged breaches of car emissions tests launched in the wake of the Volkswagen ‘dieselgate’ scandal last year has officially got underway after MEPs elected its committee chair.

The EU's EI Committee will next meet on March 22 2016

The EU’s EMIS Committee will next meet on March 22 2016

Yesterday’s (March 2) constituent meeting of the Committee of Inquiry into Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector (EMIS) saw members elect Belgian social democrat MEP Kathleen Van Brempt as chair of the inquiry.

Four MEPs were also elected as vice-chairs at the meeting by acclamation: Ivo Belet (Belgium), Mark Demesmaeker (Belgium), Kateřina Konečná (Czech Republic), and Karima Delli (France).

The names of 45 MEPs – including several from the UK – who will sit on the panel were named in January (see AirQualityNews.com story), but there had been much debate between political factions over who should chair the Committee.

Criticism has also been levels at the EU inquiry over its perceived lack of teeth for enforcement in comparison to the power of the Environment Protection Agency in the USA, which first broke the scandal by issuing the fines to the global car manufacturing giant.

But, now that the chair has been chosen, it means the EU’s 12-month inquiry – which was first announced in December – can officially begin with the next EMIS Committee meeting scheduled for March 22 2016.

“We should leave aside any partisan divide in this committee and concentrate our collective efforts on what went wrong” – Kathleen Van Brempt MEP, EMIS chair

Speaking after her election, Ms Van Brempt said called on the Committee to “leave aside any partisan divide” and instead “concentrate our collective efforts on what went wrong and shining a light on why the fraudulent software installed in Volkswagen diesel vehicles was detected by United States’ authorities and not by those responsible in the EU.”

She said: “The ‘dieselgate’ scandal rocked consumer trust in the car industry at a time when people are increasingly conscious about the environmental impact of the products they buy. It is a crucial sector to our economy, and we cannot have a situation where consumers do not have faith in the car industry’s ability to meet existing standards. This is especially true when we are talking about our citizens’ health.

“Citizens expect us to advance towards an ‘ever cleaner Union’ and to protect their health; firstly by ensuring that the environmental legislation in place is robust, ambitious and bulletproof; and secondly that this legislation is properly implemented and enforced.”

EU dieselgate inquiry aimsUK Labour Party MEP Seb Dance, who was elected coordinator of the social democrat group on the Committee, added: “We need to get to the bottom of this scandal and find out whether officials in the Commission and member states, who should have been acting in the public interest, had evidence related to the use of defeat software and chose not to act.”

Volkswagen

Meanwhile, as the EU inquiry officially got underway this week, it also emerged that former Volkswagen chief Martin Winterkorn had been sent memos informing him of alleged corrupt practices and ‘cheating’ of emissions tests at the German carmaker as far back as May 2014 – more than a year before the scandal went public.

The firm has previously said that Mr Winterkorn – who resigned in the wake of the scandal in September 2015 –was unaware of illegal cheat devices being installed on approximately 11 million VW cars worldwide.

“Whether and to which extent Mr Winterkorn took notice of this memo at that time is not documented” – Volkswagen statement

But in a statement released yesterday (March 2), VW said that Mr Winterkorn was sent a memo regarding alleged ‘irregularities’ in emissions software as part of his “extensive weekend mail” on May 23 2014.

The statement continues: “Whether and to which extent Mr Winterkorn took notice of this memo at that time is not documented.”

It adds that the diesel matter was treated as “one of many product issues facing the company” and therefore it did “not initially receive particular attention at the management levels of Volkswagen”.

The statement then goes on to claim that the firm did not expect the US authorities to publish its notice of violation against Volkswagen in September 2015, and that at this point it thought the issue was limited to cars within the USA only.

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