The EU has launched legal action against Italy over claims it overlooked attempts by Fiat Chrysler to cheat on diesel emission tests.
Italy has become the latest member state to be accused by the European commission – the EU’s executive body – of ignoring the installation of so-called defeat devices in cars, in a scandal that continues to reveal both the alleged illegal practices of major manufacturers and the weakness of national regulators.
In September 2015 the US Environmental Protection Agency accused Volkswagen of using similar software on its own diesel vehicles to mask the emissions of greenhouse gases, leading to the tabling of £11bn in fines by worldwide regulators and pitching the world’s largest carmaker into the deepest crisis in its history.
The German government is one of seven EU member states already accused by the European commission of failing to properly scrutinise the activity in the wake of the “dieselgate” scandal.
On Wednesday, German prosecutors formally launched their own case against Volkswagen’s chief executive, Matthias Müller, and others accused “of knowingly delaying telling shareholders about the financial consequences for Porsche SE of software manipulation in diesel vehicles by Volkswagen AG”.
Along with Müller, former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn and Porsche SE chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch are also suspected of failing to share information with investors in their roles as Porsche SE board members, prosecutors said.
Porsche has claimed the accusation is unfounded. A Volkswagen spokesman refused to comment on the prosecutors’ statement when contacted by Agence France-Presse.
The move by the European commission against Italy came despite a last-minute call for a postponement by its government. In a statement, Italy’s transport minister, Graziano Delrio, claimed there was a “need to delay the start of the infringement procedure” to allow for further clarifications.
The plea fell on deaf ears, and Italy now joins the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom in being formally accused by the EU of failing to regulate the use of cheat devices.
In January, the US EPA alleged that Fiat Chrysler had used “management software” that “increases air pollution” from nitrogen oxides over a three-year period in its Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Ram vehicles.
Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: “Car manufacturers have been treating emission tests laxly – some have even broken the law. The emissions scandal has shown that the responsibility to enforce the law and punish those who violate it can no longer be left solely to individual member states.
“While the European parliament and member states have recently made good progress on our proposal to overhaul the current system, it’s high time that they reach a final agreement. Citizens’ health and trust is at stake and we have no time to lose.”
Under current EU law, national authorities are responsible for checking that a car type meets all EU standards before individual cars can be sold on the single market.
When a car manufacturer breaches the legal requirements, national authorities are expected to recall car makes and “apply effective, dissuasive and proportionate penalties laid out in national legislation”.
Ugo Taddei, a lawyer for ClientEarth, said: “The commission’s action highlights that the Italian government tried to whitewash emissions cheating by Fiat Chrysler rather than protect the health of its citizens.
“The Italian case is particularly alarming but, unfortunately, this reluctance to deal with the problem of emissions controls strategies employed by car manufacturers is a pan-European failure.”
Fiat Chrysler has previously rejected the allegations against it, saying that it “believes that its emission control systems meet the applicable requirements”.