EU Car-Pollution-Test Deal Faces Veto Threat as Lawmakers Gripe

Fitch Downgrades VW Credit Rating Over Scandal
  • European Parliament environment committee hints at veto move
  • Criticism grows over Oct. 28 accord among governments

A European Parliament revolt widened over a watered-down plan for new tests on smog-causing car pollution after Volkswagen AG’s deception, heightening the risk of a veto.

The European Union assembly’s environment committee signaled it would recommend that the full chamber reject the Oct. 28 deal struck by EU national governments, which were concerned about extra costs for automakers.

The diluted plan underpins an EU move to gauge emissions of nitrogen oxides under real driving conditions starting in September 2017 because of evidence that discharges on the road are 400 percent to 500 percent higher than in laboratories. It would let real-world NOx emissions exceed permissible discharges by as much as 110 percent until January 2020 and then allow a 50 percent permanent overshoot of the actual EU limit, which is 80 milligrams a kilometer.

“If they aren’t implemented, the laws are a dead letter,” Matthias Groote, a German Socialist member of the 28-nation Parliament, said in a debate in the environment committee on Tuesday in Brussels. “We really have to put our foot down; otherwise we’ll just be laughed at.”

European policymakers are trying to balance consumer and producer interests more than a month after Germany-based Volkswagen caused a political uproar by admitting to having fitted diesel engines with software to cheat U.S. checks on NOx emissions. The deception, which prompted German authorities to order an EU-wide recall of 8.5 million Volkswagen autos, is potentially politically explosive in Europe because more than half the cars in the region are powered by diesel and many EU nations have struggled to meet clean-air goals meant to reduce human sicknesses and premature deaths.

NOx Tests

The governmental accord two weeks ago on real-world NOx tests forced EU Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska to back down over a stricter proposal she had made. Her plan would have allowed a maximum 60 percent overshoot of the EU NOx limit for two years from September 2017 and enforced the legal cap as of September 2019.

“The issue won’t go away until we clean up the air we are breathing,” said Seb Dance, a British member of the EU Parliament who also belongs to its Socialist group, which is the 751-seat assembly’s second-biggest faction. The criticism expressed by Socialists on Tuesday was echoed by members of other groups including the pro-business Liberals and the Greens.

Members of the EU Parliament’s No. 1 group, the Christian Democrats with 216 seats, were less critical of the governmental agreement while refusing to rule out that the European Commission, the bloc’s regulatory arm, would have to draw up a new proposal.

“Is the commission ready to table a new compromise and to choose Parliament’s side on this issue?” said Ivo Belet, a Belgian member of the Christian Democrats. If Parliament objects at “the committee level and plenary level, I cannot imagine that the commission is going to neglect Parliament’s position.”

Legal Effect

The approval process for this piece of European rule-making lets national governments decide on the substance and gives the EU Parliament an up-or-down verdict within about three months. If a veto recommendation emerges at committee level, at least 376 members of the full assembly would need to follow suit for the rejection to have legal effect.

Under the plan agreed by EU governments, real-driving emissions of NOx could be as high as 168 milligrams a kilometer between September 2017 and January 2020. That’s closer to the EU’s previous “Euro 5” standard of 180 milligrams a kilometer than it is to the current “Euro 6” limit of 80 milligrams.

Both those EU caps were approved by the EU Parliament as well as national governments years ago, raising concerns that technical rules meant to underpin standards actually weaken them.

“We have to object to this,” said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green member of the EU Parliament.

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