Five years ago today, US authorities announced that Volkswagen had committed emissions fraud. Dieselgate began. As a journalist, I closely followed the 2016 European Parliament inquiry into the scandal – which concluded that maladministration allowed the cheating to happen – and wrote a book about it. I look at what happened since in a series of blog posts.
In 2016, the European Parliament began a parliamentary inquiry into the emissions scandal (called EMIS) that started with Volkswagen but soon spilled over to other car companies. In its final report, adopted 2 March 2017, the European Parliament concluded that there were several accounts of ‘maladministration’ by the European Commission and EU member states’ national governments. How have they responded to those damning conclusions?
Well, the European Commissioner in charge of industry affairs at the time, Elzbieta Bienkowska, sent the head of the parliamentary inquiry a letter accompanied by an annex. The annex included point-by-point the Parliament’s conclusions, and next to it a response by the Commission (often saying that it had taken action – the document was titled Overview of action taken by the Commission after all). But several issues were left open.
The European Parliament therefore asked, in an official resolution (28 March 2019):
[The annex] did not address the conclusions of the EMIS Committee, particularly as regards the cases of maladministration and contravention of EU law; whereas Commissioner Bieńkowska underlined several times in the table that certain issues addressed in the recommendations are outside her remit; (…)
Deplores the fact that the letter from the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, to the former Chair of the EMIS Committee, is insufficient, as not all issues are within the remit of the Commissioner, as stated in the letter, and the letter fails to address the conclusions of the EMIS Committee;
Calls on the Commission to immediately send a comprehensive report, approved by the whole College, to Parliament, as required by Parliament in its resolution, which will address not only the recommendations, but also the core of the investigative task of the parliamentary inquiry, i.e. the conclusions of the EMIS Committee, in particular as regards the cases of maladministration and contravention of EU law; considers that the Commission should draw clear political conclusions on the basis of the conclusions of the EMIS Committee;
A spokesperson for the European Commission however, told me that the Commission considers the Bienkowska letter + annex as the official response to the parliamentary inquiry. They sent me copies of it, but the documents have never been published on the Commission website.
Looking for the document on the Parliament’s website was also not easy, even for an investigative journalist. It actually took me several e-mail exchangess with the Parliament’s spokesperson to find out where it was.
I challenge you to try and find the Commission’s response to the EMIS committee, without clicking on this direct link. Here’s a hint: