EU seeks more control on national car tests

Environmental Protection

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The European Commission wants more powers over the approval process of new car types for the European market, it announced on Wednesday (27 January). If national governments and the European Parliament approve the proposal, the following changes will be introduced:
– Car manufacturers will no longer pay the test laboratory directly, to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
– The commission and national governments will check if cars that have already been certified are compliant with safety and environmental requirements.
– If a car type is found to break the rules, the Commission will have the power to fine the company, if the national government has not. These fines can amount to €30,000 per vehicle on the market.
– EU countries will have to report to the commission annually about how many fines they have imposed.
– Car manufacturers will be forced to publish information about the software installed in their vehicles.
– If the commission thinks a test laboratory is not applying the rules strictly enough, it can “suspend, restrict or withdraw” that laboratory’s permission to certify new car types.
Nearly three in four MEPs supported a text which the legislative body asked the commission “to redesign the current type-approval regime in order to guarantee that type approvals and certificates by national competent authorities can be checked independently and reassessed by the commission”.

‘Real driving’ tests

The two commissioners also defended on Wednesday the design of a new testing mechanism that looks at toxic and polluting emissions during so-called ‘real driving’ conditions. Also in October, EU countries decided that under the new test, diesel carmakers would be allowed to exceed emissions limits by a factor of 2.1, and by a factor of 1.5 after January 2020. Currently, actual emissions are, on average, four times as high as suggested in lab results. This was because the gap between lab test results and the actual polluting done by cars on the road was so large, that national governments said car makers should be given some leeway to close the gap. The European Parliament does not have the power to influence the content of the new test, which was agreed through the so-called comitology procedure. It can only adopt or reject it. Last month, the parliament’s environment committee proposed to reject it. The vote, in the EP’s plenary session in Strasbourg, will be on Tuesday (2 February).

‘Constructive and timely’

Following the proposal’s publication, several interest groups gave it their praise. The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said the plan was “a big step in the right direction”. “It is crucial that the cosy relationship between car makers, national authorities and testing services is broken up,” it noted in a press release. Green lobby group Transport & Environment (T&E) said it was a “constructive and timely attempt to bring into line carmakers who, for decades, have actively undermined the approval system circumventing regulation and damaging public health, safety and the climate”. However, T&E added it would have liked the commission to put in place sanctions on the national type approval authorities.