Thursday, 8 October 2015

EU Committee of the Regions - ENVE Commission - 28/9/15 - VW Scandal

EU Committee of the Regions - Restrained from commenting on the VW emissions scandal

What dominated the ENVE Commission of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) for me, last week, was a proposal I made seeking to ensure that fines that were imposed on VW and other Car Manufacturers for falsifying emissions levels were used to help improve air quality in local communities. It seemed right that the companies that have made our communities less healthy due to emissions of NOX and other harmful particulates were made to pay for support for more sustainable forms of transport such as trams, cycle lanes and electric vehicle charging points. I had just come from Green Party Conference in Bournemouth and had heard the Greens Mayoral Candidate Sian Berry propose just such an approach.

As the Political Coordinator of the European Alliance Group on ENVE in the CoR I liaised with the other Political Groups Coordinators to see if we could agree a statement. This was what I proposed.

A statement from the ENVE Commission of the Committee of the Regions on the VW Emissions scandal

VW cheating on emissions tests on diesel vehicles sold in the US looks likely to extend to vehicles sold in Europe. We do not yet know if other vehicle manufacturers will be revealed as having behaved in a similar manner. The real losers here are the people in our towns and cities who breathe in these emissions with the impact on their health. Poor air quality will have a disproportionately severe impact on the health of people with respiratory conditions, the very young and elderly people.

Undoubtedly there will be fines that will be levied on VW and possibly other vehicle manufacturers. Those fines should be dedicated to repairing the damage that has been caused. They need to be reinvested back in projects that improve air quality. They need to pay for alternatives to polluting combustion engines such as public transport, light rail, trams, infrastructure for electric vehicles, cycle ways and support for pedestrian routes.

This approach is in line with the Committee of the Regions opinion on the Clean  Air Policy Package for Europe where it states hat we need to establish,

"Clean up programmes comprising measures aiming to meet the air quality standards"

Who better to pay for these clean up programmes than the manufacturers who bear a heavy responsibility for the quality of air in our towns and cities.

ThIs scandal also shows clearly that we need strict and transparent emissions and consumption test cycles at the EU level which realistically reflect everyday driving conditions. Such tests, which need to be checked by independent experts, are essential to allow consumers to make informed choices and stimulate innovation towards more sustainable transport an lower emissions.

We propose that the Committee of  the Regions write to the Commission calling on them to support the  passport of funds from any compensation claims to municipalities enabling them to establish clean up programmes.

A helpful amendment was received from the PES Group (Socialists) on emissions testing which I was happy to accept. A short meeting of the 5 Political Coordinators and the Chair went over the text and agreed it. All seemed to be going well and we seemed on schedule to adopt it. As I took my place in the chamber for the afternoon session of the meeting I got approached by another member of the CoR ENVE Committee who I had not previously spoken with called Cor Lamers. He identified himself as the Rapporteur responsible for the Clean Air Policy Package opinion from 2014 that I referred to in the statement. He clearly wasn't happy with the proposed statement and said it was not the intention of the opinion he lead on to be used in this way. I did try to get to the bottom of what his real objections were but that didn't become clear to me through our, admittedly short, conversation. 

Later I read out the revised statement to the 40 or so members present so the translators could ensure all  could understand its contents. No objections were received (Cor Lamers was no longer in the meeting). It was passed but with a proviso from the Chair that it be passed Mr Lamers as the Rapporteur on the Clean Air Policy Package for Europe Opinion to which the statement referred. The following day one of the right of centre groups, the European Peoples Party (EPP) withdrew its support for the statement. This meant it could not go out as a view of the ENVE Commission. I'm sure it's no coincidence that Cor Lamers is also a member of the EPP. Later the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) Group also belatedly withdrew their support. It was bizarre indeed that a statement that was agreed by all Political Coordinators in the ENVE Commission and then agreed by the meeting itself with no contrary voices should find itself effectively vetoed after the event.

I am still mystified as to the reasons why. Why would politicians block a proposal to help improve the air quality in our towns and cities. I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories but this makes no sense at all. We had an opportunity to produce a clear view from the CoR ENVE Commission that could influence the powerful European Commission but we were blocked. A disappointing and  perplexing series of events.

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