EU addresses the emissions scandal

In the context of the diesel emissions scandal surrounding FCA Italy S.p.A. (part of Stellantis N.V., formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.) and in particular with regard to the Fiat Ducato, a player who has been involved for some time is intervening once again.

At the end of December 2021, the European Commission again expresses its opinion to the Fiat Group and Italy. According to Reuters news outlet, the European Commission called on Italy to punish the use of illegal defeat devices in relation to the Fiat diesel scandal. This follows up on the EU Commission's actions from 2017.

Back in 2017, the EU took action against Italy's failure to adequately address allegations made against Fiat Chrysler (now Stellantis) in the emissions scandal that it cheated on its vehicles' registration tests.

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Infringement proceedings against Italy

In this context, the EU Commission, after pressure from German authorities, initiated infringement proceedings against Italy on the basis of an alleged violation of EU type approval regulations for passenger cars. However, this has so far borne little fruit.

To date, no further substantial action has been taken by the EU Commission with regard to these proceedings. This also seems unsurprising, because even if the opening of such proceedings sounds like a big step towards a "victory for consumers" at first, the final paragraph of the announcement of the proceedings by the Commission already shows that at least in the foreseeable future no sanctions or other tangible actions will follow.

It literally says: "The Commission now formally invites Italy to respond to its concerns (...) [and the Commission's letter is] part of the dialogue that the Commission is conducting with Italy (...)". This is therefore primarily an invitation to dialogue and not a sanction-proof procedure against Italy, which will necessarily lead to a decisive direction in the diesel emissions scandal.

Importance for consumers

So to what extent could the European Commission's intervention in the Fiat diesel scandal gain any significance at all for consumers or influence the course of the emissions scandal in general?

The EU Commission is a supranational body of the European Union. It is the executive body of the EU and is responsible for ensuring that the European treaties are upheld. Infringement proceedings, such as the one already initiated, can be submitted to the European Court of Justice if no agreement is reached. Intervention by the EU Commission is therefore by no means bad for the consumer, and if the proceedings against Italy actually come to nothing, the EU Commission could refer the matter to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The renewed request for action and in particular the imposition of penalties on the Fiat Group deepens the infringement proceedings. If Italy does not respond to the EU Commission's demand, it could refer the case to the ECJ. Whether this will happen remains to be seen. Italy's two-month deadline to respond to the Commission's letter or take action has already expired, and the case has not yet been officially referred to the European Court of Justice.

The EU Commission has also not commented on any internal progress in the proceedings. It therefore remains to be seen whether or not the Commission will go beyond symbolic intervention in the Fiat diesel scandal at a later date. Even if it does involve the ECJ, however, the exact content of the decision is of course still open and would also be some time in coming.

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