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Hearing draws spotlight on divisions inside EU Commission prior to VW emissions scandal

The Committee of Inquiry into Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector (EMIS) heard today the testimonies of Janez Potočnik and Antonio Tajani, commissioners between 2010 and 2014 under Barroso’s second term. The session took place in the backdrop of a leak that exposed deep tensions between the two officials in the period preceding the cheating revelations. 

Mr. Potočnik, who held the EU’s environment file, alerted Mr. Tajani in 2013 of “widespread concerns” about possible cheating in car emissions given the huge discrepancy between results in test conditions and real life situations. Tajani, who was responsible for the relevant legislation as Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, had imposed a regulatory moratorium in 2012 that prevented bold action from being taken. 

GUE/NGL MEP Kateřina Konečná criticised Mr Potočnik for not raising the alarm more broadly given Mr. Tajani’s inaction: 

“I was very disappointed by Mr. Potočnik’s answers. He was trying to protect himself by claiming that the formal letter he wrote to former Commissioner Tajani in 2013 was basically all he could do on this matter and I refuse to believe that. He also blamed member states but ignored completely the vagueness in the Commission’s legislation that gave enforcement little teeth. Still no one in the Commission has accepted responsibility over the series of mistakes and omissions. The inquiry committee is seeing a lot of dodging without any real results.”

A leaked memo revealed a power struggle between the environment and industry departments of the Commission with the former accusing Tajani’s office of caving to demands of the car industry to “delay action” on reducing vehicular emissions. The memo from 2012 recognized the “failure” of the Commission to put emissions under control.

GUE/NGL MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis questioned Mr. Tajani for failing to take action to prevent the fraud after the estimates in 2010 and the conclusions of the Joint Research Centre 2013 report alerted for the possibility of defeat devises during emissions tests: 

“The Commission has the obligation to monitor the enforcement of EU legislation by national authorities. Therefore even if there was no concrete evidence of specific cases, the Commission should have launched an investigation to get to the bottom of the issue while asking member states to verify the use of defeat devices and implementing measures to prevent fraud.”

Curzio Maltese, MEP from Italy and substitute member of the TRAN committee, placed doubts on Mr. Tajani's claims that he did not know about widespread cheating in the car industry:

“In March 2013 Mr. Tajani wrote to Mr. Potočnik confirming he was ‘aware of the concerns of member states in reference to the performance of vehicles in real-life driving and the implication it has on meeting air quality standards introduced by the European Commission’. Why then did he fail to investigate this issue further? It is obvious once again that the Commission operated in the interests of big industry and not in the service of its citizens.”