European Union regulators are seeking greater authority over the approval of car models in response to Volkswagen’s emissions-test deception, risking a clash with EU governments.
The European Commission is seeking the power to fine carmakers as part of a plan for more centralised market oversight and greater independence of vehicle-testing organisations.
The proposal would also allow the commission to order recalls and — in a head-on attempt to uncover cheating technologies of the kind used by Volkswagen — oblige vehicle makers to disclose software protocols.
Along with a separate plan to gauge cars’ smog-causing pollution on roads rather than only in laboratories, the initiative presented on Wednesday in Brussels marks the most far-reaching EU reaction to Volkswagen’s admission in September that it fitted diesel engines with software to cheat US checks on nitrogen-oxide discharges.
The proposal on authorising vehicle models will need the approval of EU governments and the European Parliament, a process that can take at least a year. “We need to tighten the rules but also to ensure they are effectively observed,” Jyrki Katainen, a commission vice president, said in a statement.
“It is essential to restore a level playing field and fair competition in the market.”
Volkswagen’s cheating, which the US uncovered and led Germany to order an EU-wide recall of 8.5 m Volkswagen vehicles, has left policy makers in Europe scrambling to patch up regulatory holes that threaten a “clean-diesel” strategy dating to the 1990s.
The issue is politically thorny in Europe because more than half the cars in the region are powered by diesel — which causes more urban pollution than petrol, while having less global-warming impact — and because many member states have struggled to meet clean-air goals meant to reduce human sicknesses and premature deaths.
“Diesel is losing its advantage and, in a way, you can say we have been backing the wrong horse,” said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch member of the EU Parliament. He predicted the new draft law would face resistance by national governments and receive broad support in the 751-seat Parliament — a situation that could prolong the whole decision-making process.
“It boils down to giving away national sovereignty to Brussels,” Eickhout said.
While the fate of Wednesday’s proposal will be determined during months or even years of negotiations among EU lawmakers, it may influence an imminent EU verdict on the plan for real-driving-emission tests.
The EU Parliament is set for an up-or-down vote next week on the planned testing system, which was approved by member states on October 28 and would begin in September 2017.
Because the testing regime would let real-world NOx emissions exceed permissible discharges by as much as 110% until January 2020 and then allow a 50% permanent overshoot of the actual EU limit, the Parliament’s environment committee is recommending that the full assembly reject the plan as too lax.
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