March 2, 2016 / 2:47 PM / a year ago

EU politicians begin inquiry into VW emissions scandal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Wednesday began a year-long investigation into the Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) emissions scandal and whether regulators could have done more to prevent it.

EU regulation of the car industry has been under scrutiny since Volkswagen admitted last September it rigged U.S. tests for nitrogen oxide emissions in diesel vehicles.

In a first closed-door session, the committee of inquiry elected its chair from the Socialists and Democrats and four vice-presidents to represent the political range of the European Parliament.

Some EU sources question how effective the inquiry will be as the risk is it will degenerate into political point-scoring and the main political group, the centre-right European People's Party, said it should not be "a witch hunt".

The Green Party said that was not the aim and the committee would make a real difference if it could expose years of alleged close ties between the car industry, the European Commission and some politicians.

"In this year, it is crucial that we perform our process in an organised and transparent way so that the conclusions cannot be denied by European Commission and national authorities," Dutch Green politician Bas Eickhout said.

A logo of Volkswagen is pictured on the wall at the 86th International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2016.Denis Balibouse

"That is the crux. If we do our job poorly, they can just ignore the reports. That is going to be the biggest challenge."

The Green Party has pushed for change and, together with some centrist lawmakers, wanted to tear up a compromise deal that allows diesel cars to continue producing above agreed limits.

In the end, they narrowly failed to get a veto, but setting up the parliamentary enquiry secured cross-party support.

On Wednesday, the European People's Party said it welcomed the work of the committee, but would cease to support it if it turned into a political blame game.

"We will not accept that the committee turns into a detrimental witch hunt on the European automotive industry, diesel technology or the European Commission," EPP spokesman Krisjanis Karins of Latvia, said.

The Green Party said it expected the committee to hear from representatives of all sides, including the industry, the Commission and national authorities.

The European Commission has also asked the industry and national authorities for information and proposed a radical reform of legislation that would give the EU executive enforcement powers that until now have been in the hands of member states that tended not to use them.

Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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