What is EU type approval?
Put simply, this is the means by which a car can be certified to be sold in the EU. The safety and emissions tests and the subsequent certification is provided at national level and once a car is certified by one country, it can be sold, with no further tests, in the whole of the EU. One certification only is needed for the whole EU single market. It also means that what the national authorities are doing in one country, is relevant to all others because cars approved in that country can be sold in all the others.
For the UK this system works well, it vastly reduces the costs and bureaucracy of exporting into the EU and it is likely that the UK will want to retain this system or at least access to it after Brexit. So this update is hugely relevant and is as important for the UK as it is for all EU countries.
So where are we now?
- The European Parliament has approved its version of the new rules (Dalton report)
- The European Council, made up of national governments representatives, is aiming to conclude agreement on its draft text in May.
- Then the Parliament, the Council and the European Commission will sit together to agree a final package that must then be approved by votes in the Parliament and the Council.
18 months since the public first learnt about the car emissions scandal, 15 months after the European Commission published its draft legislative proposals for an update of the rules on type approval the European Parliament has adopted its version of the Commission proposals.
Now we are waiting on national governments to agree their position so that negotiations, so-called ‘trialogues’ can begin between the three institutions.
It has been over a year and a half since some Volkswagen cars were found to be producing emissions far in excess of the legal limits, having used defeat devices to trick the initial tests.
This was the tip of the iceberg and shattered consumer confidence in the car industry. The new type approval framework aims to address the legislative failings that led to the scandal.
After the Council agrees its text in May the trialogue meetings will be where the final agreement is negotiated.
We need to get on with it. In the 18 months since the scandal broke, little has changed, yet more companies have become embroiled in it, reducing trust even more in the industry.
The old framework was open to abuse. Car companies clearly completely broke the spirit of the law, but whether they broke the letter of the law remains contested. Apart from some reputational damage there has been limited negative impact so far for those who cheated the system.
So what is changing in the new regulations :
Firstly there are new real driving emissions tests coming into force next year. Cars will be tested on the roads in a variety of conditions in addition to lab tests before they can get their type approval. This never happened before. This test will come into force next year.
Secondly the type approval proposals will impose mandatory market surveillance checks on cars on the roads. The details of this will be the subject of the negotiations described above, yet both national governments and the European Commission will be mandated to do tests and to respond to concerns when they are highlighted.
The new rules agreed by the European Parliament this week are a fundamental overhaul of the old EU system, changing the dynamics of the web of relations between car manufacturers, national governments and the European Commission.
The inquiry into the emissions scandal has shown blame on all sides, plenty of people knew there were problems, or reports of potential problems, every part of the chain of responsibility failed to properly investigate and follow-up, turning an accidental or deliberate blind eye. That was partly because responsibilities were not laid out as clearly or firmly as they could have been, meaning the impetus to act on the part of public authorities was lacking.
The new rules change all this, and are in fact stronger than the original Commission proposal:
- Independent auditors will regularly review the work of national type approval authorities to make sure they are carrying out their responsibilities to check cars have been tested properly to go on the road. The Commission will have the power to sanction an authority still failing to do its job after being warned following an audit. This will enhance both consumer trust in the system and national governments trust in each other’s type approval authorities.
- A forum which the Commission will direct as ‘Umpire’ will bring together national authorities to exchange information and best practices and will receive evidence from third parties about potential problems in the EU car market, enhancing transparency and ending the information blindness so many authorities claimed existed in the wake of the emissions scandal.
- National governments will be obligated to undertake market surveillance on 20% of all vehicle types placed on their national market in the previous year. They will have to submit their market surveillance plans to the Commission, which will help it identify weaknesses and ensure national authorities are not excessively duplicating each other’s work and between them are covering the range of vehicle types sold in the EU market.
- The European Commission will have the power (and the obligation) to undertake its own market surveillance whenever and wherever it wishes, with the intention it will be aiming to check and correct weaknesses in the national programmes it has already received.
- When non-conformities are found manufacturers will face much greater fines, and these will be directed firstly to compensation to victims, rather than disappearing into general budgets.
So, I hope the Parliament rules will be agreed by the national governments and Commission, together these changes make another emissions scandal much less likely, you can never guarantee against fraud, but you can make it much harder and less attractive for those who want to cheat the system