EU industry ministers have moved to crack down on VW-style emissions cheating, giving Brussels more powers to monitor car approvals. But critics say the draft reform has been watered down on pressure from the car lobby.
The European Council on Monday agreed the broad lines of a reform to the system of approving vehicles in Europe in order to prevent a repeat of the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
The Council, which in the EU system of checks and balances gives the 28 heads of government a say in decision-making, wants to reduce the power of national authorities and empower the European Commission to test and inspect vehicles to ensure compliance with emissions standards.
Under the present system, national bodies such as Germany's KBA authority have the power to clear new vehicles for the whole European Union, and can also revoke approvals.
The Commission should also have the power to fine manufacturers up to 30,000 euros per vehicle if they are found to be cheating, the new draft says.
"Above all, the objective is building trust and credibility again in the European type-approval system," said Chris Cardona, the economy minister of Malta, which holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency.
The new rules, which still have to be discussed with the EU executive Commission as well as the European Parliament before becoming law, are a response to Volkswagen's so-called Dieselgate scandal. In 2015, the German carmaker admitted it had used illegal software in about 11 million of its diesel vehicles to cheat during emission tests.
Since then, investigations of various other carmakers have revealed on-road nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions as high as 15 times the regulatory limits, as well as the use of devices to deceive emissions tests and mask real vehicle emissions.
Resistance and criticism
In the run-up to Monday's ministerial meeting in Brussels, European diplomats had said Germany was reluctant to hand more market surveillance powers to Brussels.
German deputy economy minister Matthias Machnig told fellow ministers at the meeting his country was in favor of strengthening oversight, but added he wanted assurances on how to avoid a conflict between different agencies.
Criticism of a different kind came from European consumer protection agency BEUC, which described the draft as a "paper tiger" that fell short of preventing a future Dieselgate.
"Clearly under pressure from Germany, they have agreed on a package of half-baked measures that risk turning the entire reform into a paper tiger," Monique Goyens, BEUC director general said in a statement.
The organization specifically noted that the draft "watered down" original Commission plans for tougher controls, saying the EU executive would now be prevented from acting when a member state had already fined a carmaker - even if the penalty issued was "completely insignificant."
Moreover, the consumer advocates said conflicts of interest in car testing weren't resolved, since carmakers would continue to be allowed to chose and pay a private test laboratory to conduct emissions tests.
BEUC has called for national authorities to be given the right to select test laboratories themselves. In addition, it urged the EU Commission and Parliament to "stick to their guns" and push member states to agree on a more ambitious final package.
uhe/nz (Reuters, AFP, dpa, BEUC)