In the wake of the Volkswagen (VW) diesel scandal, the European Parliament conducted a comprehensive review. In 2016, following investigations and hearings, the Parliament issued a report entitled ‘Report on the Inquiry into Emissions Measurements in the Automotive Sector’. In the report, the Parliament outlined different areas of responsibility and failures that led to the VW defeat device emissions scandal. The report covers laboratory testing and real-world vehicle emissions, defeat devices, type-approval and in-service conformity, and enforcement and penalties. Some of the failures mentioned by the Parliament include:
- Member States (i.e. EU countries) failed to use their authority to enforce the ban on defeat devices by not checking for the defeat devices or, in the case of some countries, by granting EU type approval to vehicles with defeat devices in the first place, and by failing to support tougher on-the-road vehicle testing (Parliament report, conclusions at page 9).
- The EU Commission failed to use its authority to oversee the Member States’ enforcement of the ban of defeat devices (Parliament report, conclusions at page 10).
Stricter emissions controls and infringement proceedings
After the diesel scandal was made public, the European Union has taken several steps to tighten up control of vehicle emissions including:
- Stricter “real driving” emissions tests, designed to detect illegal “defeat device” software, are now required for newer vehicles,
- In 2016, the EU Commission launched infringement proceedings against EU Member States Germany, United Kingdom and Luxembourg for failing to enforce the EU’s ban on defeat devices.
- In May 2018, the Commission initiated litigation in the European Court of Justice against France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom for failing to respect air quality limit values and for failing to take appropriate steps to limit any time that the values were exceeded to as short as possible.
- In May 2018, the Commission also referred Germany, France, and the United Kingdom to the European Court of Justice for failing to maintain NOx limits and for failing to take appropriate measures to keep exceedance periods as short as possible.
The European Commission’s putting pressure on Germany via the infringement proceeding filed in the European Court of Justice regarding NOx limits may have played a role in the German prosecutor’s fining Germany EUR 1 billion in June 2018 for its role in the diesel crisis. See our separate Criminal Law Considerations article regarding this.
Compensation for duped consumers
In June 2016, Europe’s Industry Commissioner, Elzbieta Bienkowska, called on VW to compensate European drivers after a settlement offering compensation and auto buy-backs was announced in the U.S. saying, in a written statement, “European consumers have been cheated in the same way as US customers, so it is only fair to offer comparable compensation without hiding behind legal arguments.”
The EU’s Consumer Affairs Chief, Vera Jourova, also urged VW to compensate duped European consumers, to no avail. VW agreed, though, in June 2017, in the face of pressure from the EU, to offer affected diesel owners a two-year warranty extension.
Because EU Member States, i.e. countries, rather than the EU itself, has the job of making sure car manufacturers stick to the emissions regulations, the EU has been limited in the ways it is able to put pressure on VW to compensate its European diesel customers.
In the wake of the VW diesel scandal, in April 2018 the EU Commission announced a “New Deal for Consumers” with proposed directives to ensure representative group actions will be available throughout the EU and to introduce tougher sanctions for consumer protection violations. These measures are designed to give greater protection to EU consumers in the future.
Every little bit helps. The EU, in addition to putting pressure on Member States to enforce emissions standards, has also spoken out in favor of compensating duped VW diesel consumers. We encourage the EU to continue to do whatever it can to ensure EU consumers’ rights are protected in the wake of the VW diesel emissions crisis.
There is work still to be done; duped consumers must receive fair compensation.