EU Set for Fight Over New Car-Emission Tests After VW Deception

  • Governments resist commissioner's plan for tougher regime
  • Proposal said to face defeat in vote due on Wednesday

The European Union’s industrial-policy chief faces a clash with EU governments over car pollution this week as the political stakes from Volkswagen AG’s cheating rise. 

Elzbieta Bienkowska, the European commissioner for industrial policy, wants to give automakers less leeway than do many EU nations in a move to a tougher system of emission tests, according to two people familiar with the matter. The new inspection regime, penciled in for September 2017, would gauge emissions of smog-causing nitrogen oxides under real driving conditions because of evidence that discharges on the road are 400 percent to 500 percent higher than in laboratories.

Europe is trying to balance consumer and producer interests a month after Germany-based Volkswagen admitted to having fitted diesel engines with software to cheat U.S. checks on NOx emissions. 

Bienkowska is proposing to let real-world NOx emissions exceed permissible discharges by as much as 60 percent for a further two years until September 2019, when the actual EU limit of 80 milligrams a kilometer would be enforced, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private. With a large group of EU countries including Germany arguing that a higher overshoot of the cap should be allowed as of September 2017, national bureaucrats are due to vote on the proposal this Wednesday. A rejection would push the plan up to ministerial level for a decision, making the issue more political.

“The ball is now in member states’ court,” Lucia Caudet, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, the 28-nation EU’s executive arm in Brussels, said on Sunday in reply to questions from Bloomberg News. “The commission’s approach is ambitious and realistic.”

Diesel Engines

Amid an EU-wide recall of 8.5 million Volkswagen autos ordered by German authorities, Bienkowska is confronting national forces sensitive to car manufacturers’ concerns in an obscure European rule-making forum known as the Technical Committee for Motor Vehicles, or TCMV.

The Volkswagen deception 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 tackle human sicknesses and premature deaths. The European Parliament plans to weigh in on the matter with a non-binding resolution scheduled for a vote on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France.

Feedback on Bienkowska’s proposal that the commission sought from EU governments indicates her plan will fail to win the TCMV’s support in Wednesday’s vote, according to one of the officials. In that case, Luxembourg, current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, would have to put the matter on the agenda of ministers for an eventual decision.

“Public trust and consumer protection are at stake,” Bienkowska told a business audience in Brussels on Oct. 22. “The only way in which we will restore public confidence is by acting quickly, collectively, coherently, and effectively. National authorities must play their role and work as active partners.”

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