The European Commission was told six years ago that VW was cheating on emissions tests, but it kept the knowledge secret, according to a report in the Guardian on 20 June which has seen papers revealed to an EU inquiry into the scandal.
In 2010 the Commission’s own research scientists told its enterprise department that they had found a suspected “defeat device” used by a maker of diesel cars, which could detect when cars being driven in test conditions and adjust emissions to safer levels. Nothing was done. Last year US authorities caught VW using a similar device, which dropped outputs of poisonous nitrogen oxide pollution (NOx) during tests. Under normal road conditions diesel cars emitted far higher levels of NOx – up to 20 times as much, and way above what is considered safe.
The US revelations have forced the EU into holding a “dieselgate” enquiry, and the “not me guv” game has begun. Daniel Calleja Crespo, director of the EU’s enterprise department at the time, stated it had been unaware of cheating actually going on, even though they knew that real-world emissions of NOx were much higher than those shown in tests. When in 2014 Crespo received a plea to investigate from the head of the EU’s environmental department, he simply stated that such practices were illegal under European law. Again, nothing happened, member states were not informed, and cars continued to poison people’s lungs. In another twist, Crespo is now director of the Commission’s environmental department, the most powerful EU environment post after the commissioner.
In his book The EU: an obituary*, John Gillingham writes: “The motor industry is joined at the hip with its purported regulator, the EU”. He points out that a pact was made in 1998 between the Commission and the car industry to promote diesel in Europe. Diesel was praised as efficient on CO2 emissions, whereas the much more serious health hazard of NOx was ignored, in spite of expert warnings. So diesel became “environmentally friendly”. Now the Commission will allow manufacturers to exceed legal limits by 110 per cent until 2020, and by 50 per cent thereafter.
* The EU: an obituary, by John Gillingham, paperback, 281 pages, Verso 2016, £12.99