The European Parliament on February 3 is scheduled to vote on a new system for testing whether cars breach limits on dangerous nitrogen oxides (NOx). The plan is in response to the recent scandal involving German carmaker Volkswagen, which admitted to manipulating emissions test data.
As reported by the Financial Times, many in the auto industry, as well as the European Commission and national governments, are urging MEPs to support the plan. But key legislators have warned that the blueprint has been so watered down and is so generous to carmakers that its provisions are in practice illegal.
Philippe Lamberts, joint leader of the assembly’s Green group, told the Financial Times the credibility of the EU was on the line. “What is at stake is whether we want to condone not just a licence to cheat but also a hollowing-out of legislation,” he said.
While the new testing system has been under development for years, work on it assumed a new urgency after revelations last year that Volkswagen had used software-based defeat devices to rig NOx tests.
Elzbieta Bienkowska, the commission member responsible for car industry regulation, has defended the deal, saying it would make a big contribution to tackling a longstanding problem of cars passing official tests but breaching permitted NOx limits on the road. She has also pledged to make aggressive use of a review clause to try to tighten the rules further.
“Of course I could call for my initial proposal but I would then need to have support among the member states, and I will not get it,” Bienkowska said in an interview with the Financial Times last month.
For parliament to reject the deal and force Brussels back to the drawing board, MEPs would need to vote by an absolute majority, with at least 376 of parliament’s 751 members backing rejection — an unusually high bar.
But opponents of the current text secured a boost on February 1 when the parliament’s legal affairs committee warned that building a large margin of manoeuvre into the tests would “run counter [to] the aims and content” of existing EU environmental regulations and so would be illegal, reported the Financial Times.