EU takes on seven countries over diesel emissions

EU takes on seven countries over diesel emissions
The European Commission has started legal action against Germany, Britain and five other countries for failing to police vehicle emissions regulations, according to EU sources.

The step reportedly followed signs of suspicious behavior in the industry after the Volkswagen cheating scandal. Brussels is not satisfied with how bloc members responded to diesel vehicles flouting pollution limits.

According to EU officials, several European countries tried to protect car manufacturers from sanctions similar to those faced by Volkswagen after the carmaker was caught using software to cheat emissions tests in the US.

The automotive industry is critical for the bloc, as it employs nearly 12 million people. The potential fines for breaking car emission rules could have a grave effect on the countries' economies.

Diesel engines power half the vehicles in Europe. Nitrous oxide pollution from them causes respiratory illness and the premature death of 72,000 people annually, according to data from the European Environmental Agency.

According to EU sources familiar with the matter, the Commission has found that countries failed to set fines to deter rule-breaking or penalize carmakers for breaching the law or cooperate with its demands for information.

The UK and Germany face cases concerning the testing and approval of new models produced by Volkswagen, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. “This is not the end; just the first wave of action,” they added.

The measure is the first step in infringement procedures that allow the EU to take action against its member states for failing to apply the common law. The members are given two months to respond, and if they are not able to satisfy the Commission within the period, the EU can take the issue to the European Courts.

Under current EU law, newly produced vehicles are approved by national regulators. The governments are empowered to revoke those licenses or impose penalties, although the vehicles can be sold all over the EU.

No country has penalized the vehicles it previously licensed in spite of probes revealing the use of defeat devices in Germany, Britain, Italy and France.

The manufacturers argue that the use of defeat devices complies with an exemption that allows protecting the engine where needed. Some national watchdogs say that the vagueness of EU law allows for the loophole.