Most of these cases are pursued by environmental organisations, such as Client Earth. These organizations aim to enforce compliance with EU air quality laws through litigation before national courts in EU Member States. These cases are driven with the intention to promote environmental awareness and to solicit compliance to air quality standards.
Other legal cases are instead against car manufacturers as the ones pursued by Deutsche Umwelthilfe – DUH -, a non-profit environmental and consumer protection association which has the legal right to represent group claims, known as class action. In court asking for the withdrawal of the type approval since it’s possible to prove that car makers use defeat devices that are not in line with regulation.
Perhaps what is most shocking is that even after Dieselgate scandal the car manufacturers haven’t been sanctioned because national authorities are protecting their industries.
We tried to find out more about the legal side of the matter, interviewing members of different organisations and seeing which is the role played by them in Dieselgate.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAWYER: WAKE UP EU!
It’s clear that Member States don’t have the interest of citizens but rather industries that promote revenue. With the amount of power that is left in the governmental officials hands and the lack of accountability within the EU this is bad! How can we fix this? We spoke to environmental lawyer for Client Earth Ugo Taddei about the legal cases that his organisation is pursuing relating to Dieselgate: “Client Earth, as non-profit environmental law organisation, is pursuing legal cases against several national courts in EU Member States and in Italy in particular the TAR – Administrative Regional Tribunal – in Milan.” The EU law identifies a public authority as responsible for the compliance with good air quality rules. In Italy, for example, these authorities are regional. That’s why Client Earth addressed the Regional Tribunal and asked to comply with EU air quality rules. This case just came to an end with the attainment of the aim: Lombardia region has undertaken to comply with air quality standards.
Legal cases have begun not just in Italy: “At the moment Client Earth is active in several EU Member States. In 2011 we have started a case against the UK government and it has reached the EU Court of Justice, which confirmed that citizens have the right to breath clean air and to address the Court if public authorities infringe air quality laws. On the basis of this decision, we decided to start similar cases in the other EU Member States, such as Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic and Italy”.
We will see how this changes the game and what voices weigh in.
“I WANT MY MONEY BACK!”
When there are problems, we usually try to do something to change the situation. We try to repair the damage that has been made to have something better for the future. That is exactly what happened with Dieselgate. New tests have been designed to check the new cars on the market, but what about our old cars? The ones that we have bought thinking that they have low emissions. Is anyone taking care of that?
On this matter we spoke to Dorothea Saam, member of Deutsche Umwelthilfe – DUH -, and we asked her which is the role played by the association in Dieselgate. She replied that they have been working on the overall topic for many years and in 2011 we had a talk with the transport minister about the use of defeat devices and later on we published or mentioned several times the fact that the emissions were higher than the limit that was allowed. After this scandal came out in the US they started to commission tests in Switzerland in the laboratory to show that not only Volkswagen but also other manufacturers are using similar devices. “For us it was quite clear that it’s not just Volkswagen case that is Diesel case in general. We started years ago to do own tests on the street as well. We have measurement devices that can take the emissions while the vehicle is passing on the road. We had tests on 50 vehicles“.
On the basis of this analysis Deutsche Umwelthilfe started to carry on several legal cases against car industries. Dorothea Saam explained to us that there are three legal cases against false advertisements or irritating advertisements but all the cases are still pending, there is no decision yet. Several cases are on the advertisements, about the fact that manufacturers show that diesel cars are cleaner than a gasoline car. This is, for example, the case for Mercedes model. There are other cases where DUH asked for the withdrawal of the type approval for several Opel models since we could prove that they use defeat devices which are not in line with the Regulation, that doesn’t comply with the original type-approval that has commissioned to the vehicle. A third aspect is that Deutsche Umwelthilfe asked local authorities to withdraw the specific type approval for Volkswagen models, that are not allowed to drive on the street. “Another strategy for us is to cancel the old Recall because it’s insufficient. On the other hand, we have legal cases against us too. Years ago there was a case with Mercedes where they would try to not allow us to publish our tests and the current case is that Volkswagen doesn’t allow us to communicate the results of a test that we did. All the cases are still pending“, Dorothea Saam aims.
This statement highlights that the guarantee of protection for the environment must be taken from a bottom up approach. The ONGs were the first to give voice to the citizens’ rights.
ARE AMERICAN CONSUMERS BETTER THAN EUROPEANS?
Looking around, what we have also found through our investigations is the unequal treatment that consumers received after Dieselgate. If you were in America you could either have got the car fixed or could have brought it back. The same thing didn’t happen in Europe.
All of the investigations paint the same picture: most of the manufacturers do not comply with standards and there are suspiciously high emissions and suspicious behaviour. However in the United States cars that don’t meet the standards are sanctioned and penalized; whereas in Europe national governments are not willing to take any action, penalties or sanctions against car manufacturers. EU citizens are now people are frustrated that they won’t receive a refund or compensation for the cars that have been sanctioned globally.
What is lacking, according to Dorothea Saam, is political will and a regulatory system that would hold manufacturers accountable. In Europe today only national governments can take sanctions and penalize the manufacturers, but governments are ignoring this public emergency and letting industries off the hook.