The Volkswagen scandal in the US last year showed that serious flaws exist in EU´s type approval framework. In the EU, new car models can be approved in any EU state and this type approval becomes valid for the whole of EU. However, due to possible links between the car manufacturer and a national certification authority, or between the manufacturer and the testing lab that carries out the tests, the type approvals may not always have been strict enough. The EC proposed last week an overhaul of the EU´s type approval framework. It stated that work on the reform had been going on for a while, but the Volkswagen revelations obviously speeded the process. The EC proposed a regulation that would repeal and replace the current rules, enshrined in a directive. The proposal has 3 main points.
Firstly, type approval authorities in EU member states usually use the services of commercial labs to assess new car models´ compliance with EU rules. The tests are paid for directly by the car manufacturer. This creates an unfortunate link. Based on the new regulation, the manufacturers will not pay directly to the test labs. The labs themselves will face tougher scrutiny. National authorities will also have to publish their enforcement data, which will be subject to peer review. By exposing the work of the authorities, the EC aims to cut the link between the manufacturers and “their” national authorities.
Secondly, not only will the new car models be tested before making it to the market, but the national authorities will be allowed to test cars that had already reached EU-wide approval and carry out ex post tests. This will possibly create controversial situations – if one country tests a car approved by a different state´s authority and finds non-compliance with EU rules.
Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the EU authorities themselves will have a stronger word. Today, the rules are harmonized at EU level, but enforcement lies with national authorities. If the new rules are adopted, the EC itself will be able to re-evaluate type approvals, carry out ex post tests and even initiate mandatory EU-wide recalls and fine manufacturers. This last point promises to be the most controversial one. Mainly states with important car industries will surely find it hard to give the EC more direct powers.
The draft regulation will now go to the EP and to the Council. In the EP, a vast majority of deputies seems to be in favor. However, as already stated, the Council will probably see a fight. This measure is not the only overhaul in the car industry. Last year, the EC also initiated a reform of emissions testing. The tests should better correspond to everyday conditions. That reform, though, only had the form of an implementing act (equivalent of a ministerial edict). It was adopted by a committee of national experts. Nevertheless, to become effective, it will have to pass through the EP and the Council (none of the institutions can reject it). The EP is likely to strike it down due to lack of ambition next week (2 February).
2nd May 2018