BRUSSELS -- She thinks the European Union has too many diesel cars, the air in EU cities is too dirty and the future of road transport is electric. Meet Kathleen Van Brempt, head of an EU emissions-investigation panel who insists she has the auto industry’s best interests at heart.
The 46-year-old Belgian Socialist is leading a European Parliament committee set up in December as a response to Volkswagen Group's cheating on tests of smog-causing emissions. Van Brempt says her goal is to draw common lessons about better EU lawmaking and put more effective rules in place rather than to point fingers at regulators or manufacturers and see heads roll.
Van Brempt’s don’t-rock-the-boat approach reflects the political pragmatism needed in an EU characterized by national rivalries, a balance of power and automakers’ clout. She says a consensus-based view also happens to be the best way to restore consumer confidence after VW's emissions scandal, which has led to the recall of millions of vehicles, prompted national probes into possible emissions deception by other manufacturers and undermined the credibility of EU environmental rules.
“There’s a sort of collective responsibility,” Van Brempt said in an interview in her office in Brussels. “It’s a collective blindness on the implementation and enforcement of the rules. We need to report all the facts and figures in a very systematic way and use them to get better law, close the loopholes and get enforcement in place at European level.”
In the EU, shining the spotlight on an industry that employs more than 12 million people and on European and national regulators who share responsibility for applying Europe’s nitrogen-oxide limits is politically sensitive. It’s all the more so when the country at the center of attention is Germany, Europe’s No. 1 economy and the home of Volkswagen.