EU Parliamentarians agree on the damage of Volkswagen emissions scandal. They disagree on the measures to be taken

VW Golf TDI clean diesel

The European Parliament adopted its position on the recent Volkswagen emissions manipulation revelations and pressed the Commission to adopt and implement the new Real Driving Emission (RDE) test cycle as a matter of urgency.

The text strongly condemns the fraud by the automotive manufacturer and regrets that these excess emissions caused harmful effects on human health and environmental damage. The EU parliamentarians underlined the urgency to restore the confidence of consumers by the Commission and the Member States through concrete actions.

The resolution welcomes the investigations undertaken by Member States regarding vehicles emissions test and stresses the need for strengthening and redesign the current EU “type-approval” regime.

During the plenary debate on the issue, many EU parliamentarians said that the scandal was hurting the credibility of the whole EU car industry and asked the Commission to introduce quickly the “real driving emissions” testing.

Although the political families agreed on the main principles, disagreements occurred regarding the best steps to take to restore consumers’ confidence. On the one hand, the leftist political families asked for tighter supervision to prevent further fraud, including the creation of a new EU-level supervision authority. On the other hand, the center-right politicians pleaded for a moderate approach in tackling the crisis so as not to risk the competitiveness of the EU car industry as a whole.

Interestingly, the German Members, including those from the governing parties (CDU/CSU and the SPD) were also divided along ideological lines on some of the key points voted.

Note: the European center-left political family includes personalities like Matteo Renzi (Italian Prime Minister), Francois Hollande (French President), F.W. Steinmeier (German Foreign Minister), Pedro Sanchez (leader of the main opposition party, PSOE, in Spain), Jeremy Corbyn (the new Labour Party leader in the UK) or Martin Schulz (European Parliament President).

The European conservative political families (EPP and ECR) include personalities such as Angela Merkel (German Chancellor), David Cameron (British Chancellor), Mariano Rajoy (Spanish Prime-Minister), Beata Szydlo (the likely new Polish Prime Minister), as well as Jean Claude Juncker (European Commission President) and Donald Tusk (European Council President).

Here are the main topics on which the left and the right have disagreed on in the European Parliament:

EU level surveillance authority – approved by a 1-vote margin

One key amendment called for the creation of an EU-level surveillance authority that would monitor how the tests are conducted in the Member States. This proved to be a very controversial matter, as countries have different procedures. Consequently, the recommendation to consider the creation of this authority was approved by a margin of only one vote (329 to 328). The groups at the left of the political spectrum, Socialists (S&D), Greens/EFA, Communists/Radical Left (GUE-NGL), and the liberals (ALDE) backed the idea, while the conservative forces, People’s Party (EPP) and Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) opposed. On this particular vote, the difference was effectively made by a few EPP Members who deviated from the group line and voted alongside the leftist groups. These MEPs are from the Netherlands and Luxembourg, as shown in the graph below.

EPP position on EU surveillance agency

Divided views on where the responsibility at Volkswagen lies

The leftist groups wanted to place the responsibility for the fraud on managing directors of Volkswagen alone. On the other hand, the center-right forces was of the opinion that such strict delimitation would not be opportune. The exact text said:

“whereas responsibility for the fraud lies with the Volkswagen managing directors and not with the workers of Volkswagen, Skoda Auto, Seat and Audi, nor with the temporary agency workers or the workers of the car suppliers in the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal and Germany”

This way of presenting things was rejected by a margin of only 4 votes as a result of the opposition from the conservative EPP and ECR groups and the liberal ALDE group: 334 votes in favour to 338 against.

Reimbursement of subsidies for environmental procedures – denied

A majority of Parliamentarians opposed the idea that, where defeat devices are found or present as a result of the investigations, the Commission and Member State authorities should require manufacturers to reimburse any subsidies, tax benefits or other fiscal incentives received on the basis of claimed environmental performance. According to this view, not doing so would amount to a distortion of competition and constitute illegal State aid. While this opinion was shared by the left forces, it remained in minority, as the center-right Members disagreed with it and thus the proposal was defeated by 309 votes in favour to 359 against. The difference on this vote was made by the pro free-market liberal ALDE group, who voted alongside conservative EPP and ECR groups, thus securing a majority.

Withdrawing subsidies

Access by the Commission and national authorities to the source codes of vehicle control system – denied

Some Members have expressed the view that the European Commission and national authorities must have access in the scope of their investigations to the source codes of vehicle control system computer programs in order to check for defeat device software, with due respect for users’ data protection. However, this proposal was rejected by a majority of Members who were of the opinion that this would be a too big interference of the state in the private production process. The proposal was defeated with 304 votes in favour to 357 against. As in the previous vote, the difference on this vote was made by the pro free-market liberal ALDE group, who voted alongside conservative EPP and ECR groups, thus securing a majority.

EU-wide collective redress mechanism – denied

A minority of Members from the leftist groups proposed that the Volkswagen case illustrates the need for an EU-wide collective redress mechanism, and called on the European Commission to come forward with a legislative proposal to ensure that EU-wide mechanisms exist to provide EU consumers with such redress. This proposal was rejected by the EPP, ECR and ALDE groups, with 286 votes in favour to 383 against.

Adding false green claims to the list of unfair commercial practices – denied

A minority of Members from the leftist groups were defeated in their call for a review of Directive 2005/29/EC in order to add false green claims to the list of unfair commercial practices and allow Member States to adopt or maintain practices additional to that list. This proposal was rejected by 334 votes in favour to 348 against.

For an in-depth analysis of the MEP’s votes, contact us at [email protected]

Statements of the EU political groups

TEuropean People’s Party (EPP), the political family of President Juncker and Chancellor Merkel, is of the opinion that there is “the need to put in place common European car emission tests which resemble real driving conditions as closely as possible.” Ms Grossetête, Vice-Chairwoman of the EPP Group specified also that “We have to prevent fraud and scandals like this, but we also have to bear in mind that Europe has a real technological advantage in clean diesel engines and that many citizens with modest incomes depend on the fuel economy in diesel-powered cars. We cannot bury the whole European automotive industry in reaction to this[1]“.

TThe Socialists and Democrats (S&D) of President Schulz, demand that the Commission immediately launches “an EU-wide investigation to identify defeat devices used on vehicles sold in Europe”. The group underlined that it has been calling for a Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test procedure for years. Furthermore, the S&D also specified that they “want to make sure that the ordinary workers – be it the manufacturer or supplier – don’t have to fear for their jobs, because of mistakes made by the top management.[2]

The European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR): David Cameron’s EU political group explains that transparency, accountability, enforcing the rules and modernising standards are needed in order to re-establish consumer trust in European car manufacturers[3].

The group called for a full investigation across all European countries covering all motor manufacturers. The Conservatives are of the opinion that the EU’s ‘Type Approval’ system for testing car standards only works if all countries enforce it and said that the emissions tests in place need to ensure they reflect real world driving experience not just laboratory tests.

The Liberal group ALDE of Mr Verhofstadt believes that new “Real driving emissions” tests need to be implemented without delay, to exclude the possibilities of further manipulation of test results with defeat devices.

Guy Verhofstadt, President of the ALDE Group said: “Given the scale of this crisis, it’s clear Europe needs “Real Driving Emissions” tests, which respect the legal emission limits, to be fully implemented within the next six months. There is no justification for a delay until 2017[4].”

The members from the Greens’ group explained that the EU Commission and governments must investigate and require manufacturers to recall vehicles with defeat devices. They are also of the opinion that the “EU needs robust pollutant emissions tests based on real driving conditions, stricter limits and greater EU-level powers to ensure these rules are respected[5].”

The Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD), the EU political family of Nigel Farage, said that “EU’s top Environmental officials were aware of the VW emissions scandal two years before it broke” and that “the EU was complicit in not cracking down on the practice immediately[6].”


In September 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Volkswagen had installed on its cars illegal software to cheat emission tests. Some days later VW announced that this software had been installed to millions of its diesel cars worldwide.