June 3, 2016 / 5:30 PM / 3 years ago

EU transport ministers to debate defeat device loophole -document

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU transport ministers will debate next week whether there is an urgent need to close loopholes in EU regulations that allow defeat devices in car engines under certain circumstances, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Flags are reflected in a window at the European Council building, a day before European Union heads of state summit, in Brussels June 18, 2008. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Defeat devices, such as those used by Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) to mask nitrogen oxide levels and cheat U.S. regulators, are permitted under both U.S. and EU law if they are needed to protect vehicle engines.

But lawyers say interpretations tend to be looser in the European Union, where national authorities have been slow to enforce EU auto emissions regulations.

Lawyers have also predicted litigation against Volkswagen is more likely to be successful in the United States than in Europe.

EU transport ministers meeting in Luxembourg will on Tuesday debate whether the EU framework “allows too much room for interpretation regarding the use of such devices,” according to a document prepared for Tuesday’s meeting.

It asks whether there is “an urgent need” to clarify the regulation to avoid potential use of banned defeat devices.

The existing law says defeat devices are justified if they are needed to protect engines against damage or accident and for the safe operation of the vehicle.

The European Commission ordered the 28 member states to investigate the discrepancy between emissions of nitrogen oxide in testing conditions and in real driving conditions following the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

Reports by the British and German authorities in April found evidence of defeat devices, but said they were justified under the exemptions provided by EU law.

The Commission says it is examining those reports and has asked for further information.

It reiterated in an email on Friday that member states had “a standing obligation to police and enforce this ban”.

  The Commission has already proposed draft legislation that would increase the EU executive’s enforcement powers for the auto sector, which have previously largely resided largely with member states.

The mood in Europe has changed following the Volkswagen scandal and even in Germany, for which the car industry represents a major source of GDP and jobs, the transport minister has said he wants to tighten the rules.

Members of the European Parliament, however, continue to voice concerns about the member states.

“There are plenty of options to enforce these rules but national governments are not willing to act,” said Dutch Liberal Member of the European Parliament Gerben-Jan Gebrandy, who is sitting on a parliamentary enquiry committee to investigate regulatory errors.

He urged EU ministers meeting on Tuesday to agree concrete action “to set things straight”.

Additional reporting by Edward Taylor in Frankfurt, editing by David Evans

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