EU Commission asks member states to investigate CO2 emissions

The European Commission has written to all 28 European Union member countries urging them to widen their investigations into potential breaches of vehicle emissions rules after Volkswagen admitted it had understated carbon dioxide levels.

Europe’s biggest motor manufacturer admitted in September it had rigged US diesel emissions tests to mask the level of emissions of health-harming nitrogen oxides.

In a growing scandal, the German company said on Tuesday it had also understated the fuel consumption – and so carbon dioxide emissions – of about 800,000 vehicles.

In a letter seen by Reuters, the Commission said it was not aware of any irregularities concerning carbon dioxide values and was seeking the support of EU governments “to find out how and why this could happen”.

It said it had already contacted Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA), which is responsible for approving the conformity of new car types, and raised the issue with other national authorities at a meeting late on Thursday in Brussels.

A Commission spokeswoman confirmed the letter, adding it asked national governments “to widen their investigations to establish potential breaches of EU law”.

“Public trust is at stake. We need all the facts on the table and rigorous enforcement of existing legislation,” the spokeswoman said.

With vehicle testing in the EU overseen by national authorities, the bloc’s executive body, the Commission, is reliant on each country to enforce rules.

This arrangement has come under fire from environmentalists because on-road tests have consistently shown vehicles emitting more pollutants than laboratory tests.

Car manufacturers are a powerful lobby group in the EU, as a major source of jobs and exports.

In an open letter today, a group of leading investors urged the EU to toughen up testing of vehicle emissions to prevent a repeat of the VW scandal and the resulting hit to its shareholders.

VW shares have plunged as much as a third in value since the crisis broke in September.

EU countries struck a deal last week that would tighten emissions rules, but still allow vehicles on the road to pollute more than agreed limits for laboratory tests. The Commission is also working on further reforms.

The Commission’s letter, dated 5 November and signed by Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowksa and Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, asked for information by the end of this month about “any evidence or information concerning possible irregularities related to the certification of CO2 emissions values”.

“If relevant, how many of the vehicles that were newly registered in your country in the calendar years 2012, 2013 and 2014 were possibly affected,” the letter asked.

After admitting to cheating US diesel emissions tests, VW said the so-called “defeat device” software used could be installed in up to 11 million vehicles worldwide.

Germany’s KBA regulator has ordered recall of affected vehicles in the EU, but can only verify the follow-up on German territory.

Representatives of national authorities told the closed-door meeting with the Commission late on Thursday that other member states had started or would soon start to investigate the presence of defeat devices, the Commission said in an emailed statement.

It has offered technical assistance, saying “it is imperative that the technical investigation is based on common methodology”.

The Commission can impose fines on manufacturers for breaking EU emissions laws, but says its first priority is to establish the facts.

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