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EU Dieselgate Demonstrates All That Is Wrong With The European Union And Its Inability To Handle Environmental Issues

08/03/2017 12:00 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 12:00 GMT
Chris Radburn/PA Archive

Billions in aid, posturing officials, creepy lobbyists, years of fraud, back room deals, unenforced laws, and promotions all round. This has all the ingredients of a TV political drama that most viewers would dismiss as being unbelievable, yet for years we were duped by the European Union when it told us time and again that it was the only political regime that was capable of tackling environmental regulation.

The scandal erupted in 2015 when US officials spotted that German car manufacturer Volkswagen had been deliberately understating its emissions for some of its cars. Eleven million of them worldwide. The company were fined over $18 billion, and now the scandal has spread to other manufacturers.

The emitted gas in question were Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) one of the gases contributing to poor air quality in UK cities highlighted in a recent report.

The relationship between VW, one of Germany's largest exporters, its government and the European Union has long been cosy.

Volkswagen's presence has long been strong at home in Germany, the EU's bloc's political and economic powerhouse.

As Reuters reported in 2015 "political connections are particularly strong at Volkswagen, whose arcane shareholder structure is laid out in the "Volkswagen Law" which dates back to 1960 and has faced repeated legal challenges at the European level.

The law effectively shields the company from takeovers and bestows hung influence on Lower Saxony, a state in central Germany that owns a 20 percent stake in VW and has been a stepping stone to national power for countless politicians.

Premiers of Lower Saxony who have sat on VW's board include former Chancellor Gerhard, nicknamed the "Auto Chancellor", current Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and former president Christian Wulff."

And in Brussels the company has a strong presence, with the official register recording in 2014 alone it spent €3.3 million on lobbying, giving it one of the largest presences in the euro corridors of power.

Three months before the scandal broke in America a five page report written by the director general at the European Commission's internal market department stated that the bloc's own diesel-vehicle emissions policy "AN ALMOST COMPLETE FAILURE" and that "ABSOLUTE NOx EMISSIONS OF DIESEL VEHICLES UNDERREAL DRIVING CONDITIONS HAVE HARDLY CHANGED" despite "VARIOUS" EU "STEPS".

Interesting then that the EU knew in advance of the States, and that it did not come to light despite the systems cheating device was supposed to have been outlawed by the EU as early as 2007 under the "Regulation (EC) No 715/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2007 on type approval of motor vehicles with respect to emissions from light passenger and commercial vehicles (Euro 5 and Euro 6) and on access to vehicle repair and maintenance information."

Yet, the EU simply did not bother to enforce the regulations and check that such cheating software was not being deployed, thereby making a mockery of the institutions. Worse still, they helped fund the company. The EU's bank, the European Investment Bank has fed the Volkswagen group around €4.6 billion in low-interest. They were provided in order to finance, among other things, environmentally-friendly engines.

One of the most revealing things about this global scandal is that between 2008 and 2010, the European Commissioner with the transport portfolio was the Italian Antonio Tajani. One would have been forgiven for assuming that he would have been sent off in disgrace. Alas no, in January he was voted in as President of the European Parliament.

There is never any expectation that all regulations will be implemented and regulated smoothly. But this scandal ran for nine years, had EU funds smeared all over it, behind closed door lobbying, and the whopping potential for political malfeasance.

Brexit means that the United Kingdom can take responsibility for its own rules and procedures and pursue the wrongdoers.

We can implement full transparency and scrutiny and rid our political system of cronyism and incompetence. Leaving the European Union gives us a bright future where such murkiness will cease to exist. Brexit is one of the most optimistic political decisions in years and its full potential should be appreciated.