VW emissions scandal suggests EU regulation is weak, but Commission shows no sign of wanting to do anything to strengthen it

The fact that Europe’s leading auto manufacturer had been brazenly undermining the purpose of regulations designed to limit poisonous emissions from its diesel cars has made a fool of the EU’s regulations to limit air pollution.  The fact that VW’s ploy was discovered in the US where only 3% of cars are diesel compared with 50% in the EU, adds to the reasons why the EU and its member states should be embarrassed. Because emissions testing is in the hands of national agencies who are close to the manufacturers themselves rather than independent bodies nationally or EU-wide means that it is unlikely that the ploy would have ever been uncovered in the EU. The cheating carried out by VW and more broadly the fact that, for all cars, there are major differences between emissions in laboratory tests and what is actually emitted in normal driving conditions are a major factor why member states are flouting EU legislation on air pollution but unable to comply short of drastic measures such as driving bans.

Given these facts, it might be expected that the Commission would be highly concerned and be proposing measures to require vehicles to be recalled and adjusted to comply with the law after the removal of defeat devices. In fact, it has almost completely ignored the scandal, apart from a Fact Sheet released on September 25th. A search on the Commission’s website for VW produces its latest result in 2013 (which boasts that VW was then the global company with the highest spending on research). The environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, has not mentioned the subject in recent speeches. By contrast, the transport, internal market, industry and environment committees of the European Parliament and even the UK transport minister, Patrick Mcloughlin, have called on the Commission to investigate. If anyone in the Commission is doing so, it is being kept very quiet. From its lack of response so far, it can be surmised that Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission and his fellow commissioners do not want to do anything that might upset the largest member state, Germany, or to give the impression that it is throwing its weight around. The commissioner for better regulation, Frans Timmermans, has not seemed concerned about the failure of EU regulation to achieve its aims, which suggests that for him better regulation means less regulation. We can conclude that the UK government’s campaign for a less interventionist Commission, helped by business lobbying and similar if less strongly expressed views on the part of other member states, is proving highly successful at least in the field of environment legislation.