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Leaked: Commission giving inside information to car lobby on new emissions tests

As the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the dieselgate scandali begins its work in Brussels, a leaked lobbying document from the European car manufacturers' lobby, ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers' Association), reveals a sophisticated, multi-faceted behind-the-scenes lobbying strategy aimed at weakening new emissions tests.

Corporate Europe Observatory

Key points:

  • ... the European Commission had known manufacturers were vastly exceeding limits back in 2011 and was designing new on-the-road tests, or 'Real Driving Emissions' (RDE) tests, to tackle the problem in diesel cars. But as the leak shows, ACEA and its members had other plans. Their intention: to weaken and delay the new tests, scheduled to be finalised in 2015 and introduced in 2017, which could prevent thousands of premature deaths every year but would most certainly dent profits if implemented in full.

  • The document reveals how a secretive weekend meeting between the Commission and ACEA guided the latter's four-stage negotiating strategy; how ACEA was prepared to compromise far further if pushed – but never needed to due to inside information from the Commission; and how it used EU member states to block proposals it didn't like when the Commission didn't prove sufficiently malleable.

  • Despite the dieselgate scandal and the ensuing public outrage, industry still got what it wanted with regards to the new RDE tests. First by weakening the test conditions, then getting governments to support an enormous loophole allowing manufacturers to exceed emissions requirements by more than twice the legal limit. The latter was voted through by national governments on October 28th, only a month after the dieselgate scandal hit, and then passed by the European Parliament at the beginning of February.

  • The informal meeting between key people within the Commission and ACEA sharing sensitive and important information underlines how close the relationship is, and one of the reasons why the car industry did not feel the need to compromise on key issues. Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has trumpeted the lobbying transparency agenda, but the privileged access enjoyed by big business is not limited to the Commission's buildings and is exemplified such informal encounters, not to mention the cocktail parties and other gatherings that grease the wheels of the Brussels legislative body.

  • The leak highlights that the key plank of ACEA's strategy was getting European national governments behind its positions, in order to circumvent the Commission when it didn't toe the line.

  • Once the key arguments were assembled and countries identified, the lobby document shows ACEA's main strategy was to bring member states on board via the 'ACEA RDE Roadshow'. Inferring from the presentation, which references the 'ACEA RDE Roadshow Part 2' (of three), the aim was to bring senior ACEA figures alongside local representatives such as factory owners to target relevant national ministries. Armed with a centrally-coordinated ACEA Powerpoint, delegates were supposed to press home the importance of listening to the car manufacturers' lobby in order to avoid job losses.iv In Hungary, for example, the leaked document lists Daimler's Jenz Franz as ACEA's representative, with Audi's Konrad Kolesa playing the role of local partner. Audi claims to support more than 15,000 jobs in Hungary via its factory and related supply chains.

  • The Commission has consistently defended the inclusion of car manufacturers in policy making due to a lack of internal expertise which industry can make up for. However, this document further underlines the political nature of the expertise provided, and how information that might seem technical eg what 'normal' driving conditions might be, is actually used as a bargaining chip by industry to secure further weakening of regulation, ie industry can redefine 'normal' if the tests are delayed or exemptions are increased. Information from the car industry is not linked to what is and is not technically feasible for manufacturers, but instead a calculation on how much profit doing so would cost them.

  • The involvement of ACEA in the regulatory process is clearly as a stakeholder, not an expert. The presentation outlines a multi-tiered negotiating strategy, with three compromises between their walk-in and walk-out positions – and the fact they have a walk-out position shows they see themselves as a partner without whom regulations could not be made.

  • ... the lack of internal expertise at the Commission, its inability to find experts independent from industry and an effective but limited civil society presence means there are few counter-weights to car manufacturers demands.

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