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Dieselgate Has Turned Nasty Again

Category: Energy & Environment,Finance

Elzbieta Bienkowska, the EU Industry Commissioner, wanted to convene a summit of European transport ministers to come up with a solution to air pollution (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)Getty

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European Union’s industry commissioner, is not known to mince her words. And so when she learned this week that German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer will not be attending her emergency Dieselgate summit in Brussels due to take place next Tuesday, she let her fury be known.

The cancellation, she said, was frankly “disappointing” considering Germany is the country at the heart of this scandal.

There’s little point in holding it if Germany won’t attend, and the summit has been cancelled.

September marked the third anniversary of the scandal, in which Volkswagen was found to be cheating on air pollution emissions tests by installing ‘defeat’ devices in their diesel fuel vehicles. Other German automakers were later found to be engaged in similar practices.

As a response, the European Commission proposed a new EU system of oversight for the national bodies that carry out these tests. For the affected vehicles which are emitting more pollution than advertised, Germany has been trying to come to an agreement with automakers to have them pay for hardware retrofits. But partly owing to the auto industry’s close connections in the German government, it has been hard to get them to commit to a solution so far.

Next week’s summit was supposed to force Berlin, and other European capitals into taking action and develop a long-term strategy for tackling air pollution. While American consumers who bought the affected vehicles have been financially compensated, European consumers have not.

Bienkowska also wanted to address concerns that in the absence of retrofits and compensation, and amid concerns about bans on diesel vehicles in German cities, the affected dirty vehicles are being sold to buyers in Eastern Europe. “I’m from Poland, and this is really a very serious situation,” she said at an event in Brussels earlier this month.

“Dieselgate is still not over," she added. "It seems that industry is still using loopholes."

But this week Scheuer, who is part of Merkel’s CDU/CSU party, said he would not be attending the summit – claiming he didn’t know anything about it. Confusingly, he added that in any event he had cancelled in time.

In response Bienkowska told Politico that the invitations were sent well in advance, and that she had personally discussed the summit with Scheuer in July. The minister hit back, denying any such conversation and accusing the EU commissioner of spreading false information.

A spokesperson for the Commission said the format has now been changed and will instead be conducted at technical level among civil servants. “It will serve as a useful basis of preparation and exchange for next year, when the Romanian presidency will convene a conference on the automotive sector,” she said.

NGO intimidation

The cancellation follows a controversial move to insert a provision into Merkel’s party’s manifesto threatening funds for NGOs that are working on the dieselgate issue, ahead of its party congress on 6 December.

Steffen Bilger, parliamentary state secretary for the German ministry of transport, has reportedly requested that text be added to the manifesto that calls for an investigation of whether the NGO German Environmental Aid (DUH) has breached rules regarding its non-profit status.

"The CDU Germany demands to check whether DUH still meets the criteria for charitable status," the text reads. In addition, it also suggests that DUH should be forbidden from bringing collective action legal challenges relating to the issue.

The move follows reports that automotive companies are leaning on organisations that fund DUH to drop their funding.

In addition to public campaigns, DUH has been coordinating lawsuits that have resulted in legal orders to enact diesel bans in German cities. Both the German government and the European Commission are against these bans, viewing them as a piecemeal approach that will cause more harm than good because they spread confusion among the public.

Bieńkowska has said that the better approach is national action to recall retrofit the vehicles, like the plan Germany is pursuing. She wants other countries to follow Germany’s lead, which has led to particular frustration over Scheuer’s cancellation for her summit.

However she has indicated that the no-show will not mean Berlin or the automakers escape the issue. In January Romania will take over the rotating presidency of the EU from Austria, and Bucharest plans to place high importance on finding a solution to the dieselgate issue.

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Elzbieta Bienkowska, the EU Industry Commissioner, wanted to convene a summit of European transport ministers to come up with a solution to air pollution (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)Getty

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European Union’s industry commissioner, is not known to mince her words. And so when she learned this week that German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer will not be attending her emergency Dieselgate summit in Brussels due to take place next Tuesday, she let her fury be known.

The cancellation, she said, was frankly “disappointing” considering Germany is the country at the heart of this scandal.

There’s little point in holding it if Germany won’t attend, and the summit has been cancelled.

September marked the third anniversary of the scandal, in which Volkswagen was found to be cheating on air pollution emissions tests by installing ‘defeat’ devices in their diesel fuel vehicles. Other German automakers were later found to be engaged in similar practices.

As a response, the European Commission proposed a new EU system of oversight for the national bodies that carry out these tests. For the affected vehicles which are emitting more pollution than advertised, Germany has been trying to come to an agreement with automakers to have them pay for hardware retrofits. But partly owing to the auto industry’s close connections in the German government, it has been hard to get them to commit to a solution so far.

Next week’s summit was supposed to force Berlin, and other European capitals into taking action and develop a long-term strategy for tackling air pollution. While American consumers who bought the affected vehicles have been financially compensated, European consumers have not.

Bienkowska also wanted to address concerns that in the absence of retrofits and compensation, and amid concerns about bans on diesel vehicles in German cities, the affected dirty vehicles are being sold to buyers in Eastern Europe. “I’m from Poland, and this is really a very serious situation,” she said at an event in Brussels earlier this month.

“Dieselgate is still not over," she added. "It seems that industry is still using loopholes."

But this week Scheuer, who is part of Merkel’s CDU/CSU party, said he would not be attending the summit – claiming he didn’t know anything about it. Confusingly, he added that in any event he had cancelled in time.

In response Bienkowska told Politico that the invitations were sent well in advance, and that she had personally discussed the summit with Scheuer in July. The minister hit back, denying any such conversation and accusing the EU commissioner of spreading false information.

A spokesperson for the Commission said the format has now been changed and will instead be conducted at technical level among civil servants. “It will serve as a useful basis of preparation and exchange for next year, when the Romanian presidency will convene a conference on the automotive sector,” she said.

NGO intimidation

The cancellation follows a controversial move to insert a provision into Merkel’s party’s manifesto threatening funds for NGOs that are working on the dieselgate issue, ahead of its party congress on 6 December.

Steffen Bilger, parliamentary state secretary for the German ministry of transport, has reportedly requested that text be added to the manifesto that calls for an investigation of whether the NGO German Environmental Aid (DUH) has breached rules regarding its non-profit status.

"The CDU Germany demands to check whether DUH still meets the criteria for charitable status," the text reads. In addition, it also suggests that DUH should be forbidden from bringing collective action legal challenges relating to the issue.

The move follows reports that automotive companies are leaning on organisations that fund DUH to drop their funding.

In addition to public campaigns, DUH has been coordinating lawsuits that have resulted in legal orders to enact diesel bans in German cities. Both the German government and the European Commission are against these bans, viewing them as a piecemeal approach that will cause more harm than good because they spread confusion among the public.

Bieńkowska has said that the better approach is national action to recall retrofit the vehicles, like the plan Germany is pursuing. She wants other countries to follow Germany’s lead, which has led to particular frustration over Scheuer’s cancellation for her summit.

However she has indicated that the no-show will not mean Berlin or the automakers escape the issue. In January Romania will take over the rotating presidency of the EU from Austria, and Bucharest plans to place high importance on finding a solution to the dieselgate issue.


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