Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements
1. To ask the Taoiseach if he received a call from Chancellor Merkel of Germany, on the European transmissions directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33920/15]
I have not received any such call in recent times. However, during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2013 I had an extensive range of contacts with and calls from Heads of State or Government or Presidents of EU Institutions regarding the business of the day. In that context, Chancellor Merkel contacted me directly to emphasise Germany's views on proposals on CO2 vehicle emissions standards which were under negotiation between the Council and the European Parliament at the time. The points she made to me were also being pursued by German representatives in Brussels. I ensured her views were passed on to those directly engaged in the negotiations on our side at the time.
This is a very serious issue. The Taoiseach has been reported as having been involved in lobbying with Chancellor Merkel in working to delay cuts to car carbon dioxide targets. This is happening in tandem with the Volkswagen scandal that emerged when vehicular emissions were deliberately misrepresented to the public and it turned out that there had been interference with and manipulation of vehicles to give false readings. We know that German Governments have had very close ties with Volkswagen. The last President of Germany, the previous Chancellor and the current Deputy Chancellor have all held seats on Volkswagen's board. The New York Timeshas reported that the Taoiseach actually lobbied on behalf of the Chancellor for Germany's car makers in order to have the directive watered down until, I believe, 2021. The Taoiseach worked with Chancellor Merkel in 2013 to press Brussels to overturn an agreement on cutting emissions and postponing some regulations until 2021. Why would he do this? Volkswagen is now recalling 80,000 cars sold in Ireland following revelations of emissions test cheating. I know that the German Government might have considerable influence over the Taoiseach and that the German Chancellor has considerable influence over him. However, it is going too far for her to lobby the head of the Irish Government with a view to diluting and delaying a very important directive that goes to the heart of public health and people's well-being in terms of air quality.
The Taoiseach used a strange phrase in his reply to me and I did not quite pick it up. He said he had ensured her views were passed on to those who were making the decision. Is that correct? That means that he actually spoke to those who were making decisions on behalf of Chancellor Merkel. It is very nice diplomatic parliamentary language. However, calling a spade a spade, it seems the Taoiseach reacted sympathetically to the Chancellor and lobbied on her behalf, which was the wrong thing to do. It is scandalous and he should be clear on what transpired. There is a huge scandal around Volkswagen and the manipulation of the emissions tests which undermines public health to a frightening degree. It was reported during the week that one of the top risks to public health was air quality, much of which is related to the automotive industry. There have been attempts duirng the years to improve the quality of emissions and reduce the harmful ingredients in car emissions and so on. For the life of me, I do not know why the Taoiseach would not have told Chancellor Merkel: "I am not passing this on to anybody. We actually think this is the right thing to do. The directive should be implemented. The industry is lobbying, but, Chancellor, the cutting of emissions through the agreement arrived at among the Heads of State in Europe is good for the public."
Am I correct in saying the Taoiseach worked with Chancellor Merkel to have the regulations and agreement on car carbon dioxide targets put back to 2021 and have them diluted? This has come about from the Volkswagen scandal. The Taoiseach's lobbying role has been reported in The New York Times. He needs to be far more clear than the language use in his reply suggests.
I am not sure what is happening to the Deputy, but he seems to be keen to move into overdrive. I am not sure on what he bases his belief in respect of The New York Times. I do not know why he wants to believe The New York Timesin the reports being issued here. He has made the comment that the German Chancellor had influence over the Taoiseach. That is not so and it is beneath the Deputy. As a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, he will appreciate that one engages with one's counterparts within the European Union and beyond on issues of national, international and global importance, as he did and rightly so.
The main purpose of the proposed CO2regulations on vehicle emissions standards was to confirm CO2reduction targets for 2020 which had been provisionally agreed in 2008. During our Presidency of the Council in the first six months of 2013, a great deal of progress was made. The file in question was on the agenda for the last meeting of permanent representatives, COREPER, during Ireland's Presidency in June 2013 for the analysis of a provisional agreement which had been reached in the trialogue negotiations by the Irish Presidency with the Commission and the European Parliament. At that meeting some member states asked that a decision on the final negotiated compromise be postponed, as they needed more time to consider it.
Given that the objective of any EU Presidency is to achieve the maximum possible consensus, we agreed with this. The measure was subsequently adopted later in 2013 under the Lithuanian Presidency. While it would have been a welcome achievement to have finalised the negotiations during our Presidency, it is normal for member states to ask for and be granted the time required to consider the outcome of complex negotiations carefully before giving their agreement. The time extension was sought primarily by Germany. It was also sought by Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The matter was dealt with at the last meeting of COREPER, without it being placed on the agenda of the European Council which I had the privilege to attend with the President of the Council. It was signed off on subsequently by the Lithuanians.
This is a complex issue. Deputy Micheál Martin seeks to tie it with the Volkswagen scandal in the United States and wants to lump Ireland in as a party to it. That is beneath him. The recent Volkswagen disclosure relates to falsifying pollution emission test results for some models of VW diesel cars with 1.2, 1.6 and 2 litre engines. These vehicles, as the Deputy knows well, were fitted with sensor or software-defeat devices which recognised when a vehicle was being tested and then reduced emissions accordingly. That is illegal under European law. The Deputy is now suggesting that, through a telephone call to me about normal business from the German Chancellor, we were subsequently involved in some illegal scam. That is also beneath him.
This issue relates solely to pollutants emitted from vehicles, primarily nitrogen oxide emissions. The relevant legislation covering diesel engines, the Euro 5/6 regulation of 2007, specifies emissions limits for all important toxic complete pollutants. The Volkswagen fraud concerns nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars and as such is not directly related to the emissions standards directive agreed to in 2013 which covers carbon dioxide emissions and different matters. Carbon dioxide emissions are directly relevant to climate change, which is why efforts were made to reduce emissions, including those from transport. Nitrogen oxide emissions, while also climate-related, are primarily of concern because of their impact on human health.
The manipulation by Volkswagen of data for the level of harmful nitrogen oxide emissions and diesel cars is estimated to affect over 100,000 vehicles in this country. Initial concerns about unexplained inconsistencies related to petrol engines which could have affected carbon dioxide emissions from approximately 9,000 cars have been found not to be valid. The falsifying of emissions data is an extremely serious matter and is being investigated and followed up at European level, with investigations led by the anti-fraud squad of the European Commission and the European Parliament. The Commission is also taking a co-ordinating role in investigations at national level by member states. In Ireland several Departments and Government agencies are actively involved, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Transport, Tourism and Sport; Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; the Road Safety Authority and the National Standards Association of Ireland.
In the case of cars affected by the manipulation of nitrogen oxide emissions data, Volkswagen is planning to commence a programme of remedial recalls in January. This may require hardware changes in up to half of the cases involved and may take more than one year to complete. Where the emissions scandal was initially confined to cars in the Volkswagen Group, the German regulator, KBA, Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, which has taken the lead on the issue at European level, has expanded its investigation into more than 50 models from other manufacturers, including BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Volvo and Nissan. Recent reports indicate that Renault may also be affected.
Although details are still unclear in terms of the scale of the impact as to whether the carbon dioxide tax band ratings of petrol cars will be affected, it is possible that there may be implications for car owners in the context of motor taxation. Volkswagen has written to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and other relevant Ministers, undertaking that additional taxes arising from fuel consumption in terms of carbon dioxide discrepancies will be settled by the company. Once the impacts are clear following the ongoing investigations, consideration will be given to whether any further action should be taken.
I want to make it clear to Deputy Micheál Martin that when I had the opportunity and privilege to host the EU Presidency, it was my duty and responsibility to deal with other leaders who might make calls or comments or deal with information. For the Deputy to suggest that, because we held Presidency, we suddenly lobbied on an issue that had been discussed by countries at COREPER is certainly beneath him. I did not think he would go that far. If that is what he wants to do in his kind of politics, he can keep at it, but I will have no hand, act or part in that sort of stuff.
That is not my fault. I was quite brief in asking my question. The Taoiseach, as usual, went down a cul-de-sac on a separate issue to deliberately waste time, as he always does.
The New York Timesreport reads:
In the summer and fall of 2013, Ms Merkel pressed Brussels and succeeded in overturning an already concluded agreement on cutting carbon dioxide emissions, postponing some regulations until 2021.
Ms. Merkel was said at the time to have worked with Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, on the lobbying effort.
The Taoiseach is missing the point I am making about Volkswagen. I am not accusing him of having anything to do with Volkswagen. It is known, however, that German Governments have worked with industry. The Taoiseach knows damn well that industry lobbies hard and it was lobbying here. I am a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I was also a Minister in other Departments. The German Government came to us to dilute nicotine levels in cigarettes and we refused.
Other countries also told them where to go. Sometimes principles have to be asserted in discussions such as this. The bottom line is that, even from the Taoiseach's replies, notwithstanding the long, convoluted cul-de-sac he went down, Germany essentially got its way in cutting carbon dioxide emissions and having the directive delayed.
It would have been better if the Taoiseach had been far more forthcoming when he was asked in public about this issue because his Department had no comment to make on it. A more comprehensive response earlier would have been far more advisable. The critical point is that there is no question but that the German Chancellor was lobbying on behalf of the industry, an industry which had serious questions to answer in terms of its interest in ensuring public health. I will take no lectures from the Taoiseach on my right to put these questions in the interests of the public. Essentially, what happened was that the German Chancellor, Ms Merkel, lobbied on behalf of the car industry to delay important public health directives and the Taoiseach acquiesced.
Deputy Micheál Martin is perfectly entitled to ask any question here. That is his right as a public representative and the person who happens to be the leader of his party. However, I reject the assertion he has made.
First, he said the German Chancellor had been lobbying. He then told me that I had been lobbying. He claims that essentially what she was doing was lobbying. I have already answered him. The matter was on the agenda for the final meeting of COREPER. An extension was sought and supported by Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany.
The extension was sought by a number of countries - Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany. Opposition to that was expressed by France and Italy, but when the agenda point was finally reached at the COREPER meeting, there was no objection and no opposition. There were two full working days for countries to consider the final text, as the final compromise was reached with the European Parliament on a Tuesday and the final endorsement was sought on the Friday of the same week, which was the last COREPER meeting of Ireland's Presidency.
I have clarified the distinction for Deputy Martin in respect of nitrogen oxide emissions and carbon dioxide emissions from cars and vans. Obviously it speaks for itself. I reject the Deputy's unwarranted assertion. It is beneath him to make that point.
I am obliged, as one who held the Presidency of the Union, to engage and discuss this matter with all the other leaders. Here is the evidence of the discussions that took place not at the European Council but with the representatives of the permanent representatives of COREPER.
Yes. I am telling the Deputy that countries sought an extension because of the very short time that was left to decide on this. It was not decided during Ireland's Presidency; it was decided and agreed during the Lithuanian Presidency. The Deputy should go back to The New York Timesand have a discussion with his friends.