EU gains powers to check up on new car approvals

EU gains powers to check up on new car approvals

By Tunde Osho (with agency reports)

European Union negotiators have agreed to new rules that give Brussels the power to check up on national car approval authorities after Germany and Italy dropped their resistance to the EU having greater control.

Under the new regulation, the EU executive will be able to trigger EU-wide recalls, carry out checks on cars and fine automakers up to 30,000 euros per car for breaches of the rules.

Under current rules, national bodies, such as Germany’s KBA authority, approve new cars and only they have the power to revoke those licenses.

The draft law allows the EU to carry out an audit of national authorities which approve vehicle types and sets a minimum number of on-road emissions tests a country is obliged to carry out — after such checks in the U.S. helped to uncover the Volkswagen emissions-rigging scandal.

But EU negotiators dropped the European Commission’s plan to break cozy relations between automakers and the laboratories they use to test cars by changing the current system where automakers pay for the tests. This allows car companies to influence the results, campaigners claim.

The new regulation maintains the current ban on defeat devices, which national authorities have a standing obligation to police and enforce, the Commission said. It also goes a step further by requiring automakers to provide access to the car’s software protocols. VW’s emissions cheating centered around engineers manipulating engine management software to hide high emissions in lab tests.

The agreement was a win for EU officials, who have grown increasingly frustrated with what they see as governments colluding with the powerful car industry. European Commission research shows on-road emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) as high as 15 times the regulatory limit.

The Commission proposed new powers following the 2015 scandal when VW admitted to cheating on U.S. diesel emissions tests. But negotiations among EU countries and European Parliament have dragged on for almost two years.

In final talks this week, EU diplomats said Germany and Italy dropped their opposition. The two countries had originally wanted to weaken EU oversight.

“The key elements of our proposal have been upheld, including real EU oversight and enforcement powers,” Europe’s Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said. “We know that some car manufacturers were cheating and many others were exploiting loopholes.”

All the big EU countries supported the compromise “because they started to see the PR problem,” one EU diplomat said.

Campaign groups said they hoped the changes would put an end to a lack of proper market surveillance by member states. “More European oversight of national authorities should also help to eliminate conflicts of interest that might exist,” the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) head Monique Goyens said in a statement.

The regulation still needs approval from the European Parliament and member states to become law. It will then become mandatory on Sept. 1 2020.