Austria wins environmental case against Germany’s Volkswagen at EU Court

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) on Thursday ruled illegal software fitted to Volkswagen diesel vehicles which deactivates the filtering of polluting emissions at certain temperatures, paving the way for compensation for affected customers.

Austria wins environmental case against Germany's Volkswagen at EU Court
The logo of German carmaker Volkswagen (VW) is pictured on the main plant of the group in Wolfsburg, northern Germany, on March 22nd, 2022. Photo: Yann Schreiber / AFP

“Software in diesel vehicles which reduces the effectiveness of the emission control system at normal temperatures during most of the year constitutes a prohibited defeat device,” the EU’s court ruled.

The software reduces or even completely deactivates the filtering when temperatures are below 15 and higher than 33C (59F).

“Emission limits laid down at EU level must be observed even where those temperatures are significantly below 15C,” the court said in its rulings.

Austria’s Supreme Court and two regional courts brought the case to the CJEU following complaints of buyers, who bought Volkswagen vehicles between 2011 and 2013.

READ ALSO: Austrian car buyer to get refund for emissions-cheating Volkswagen

In a reaction to the ruling, the German automaker insisted it meant the thermal windows used in its vehicles “remain permissible”.

“They protect against immediate risks to the engine in the form of damage or accident,” the company said.

“The exhaust gas recirculation of the EA189 vehicles affected by the proceedings is 100 percent active up to an outside temperature of 10C and thus for most of the year,” it added.

Volkswagen said it expected the ruling’s impact to be “minor”. 

“National authorities and courts must still decide on a case-by-case basis whether a specific thermal window is permissible,” it said.

READ ALSO: German farmer sues Volkswagen over CO2 emissions

“Civil law actions that base an alleged claim for damages on the existence of a thermal window will continue to be unsuccessful.”

Several million vehicle owners could take action against the Wolfsburg-based group, said German lawyer Claus Goldenstein, who represents more than 45,000 complainants in the separate so-called “dieselgate” scandal involving Volkswagen.

“With today’s decision, Volkswagen is once again caught up in the exhaust gas scandal,” he said in a statement.

In the “dieselgate” scandal that broke out in 2015, Volkswagen has admitted tampering with millions of diesel vehicles to dupe emissions tests.

The scandal has since ensnared several top European carmakers and car part suppliers over their alleged roles in the development of the cheating software.

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German city residents sue government over air pollution

Seven residents in Germany are taking the government to court over the poor air quality around their homes, an organisation representing them said on Monday.

German city residents sue government over air pollution

The residents of Berlin, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich believe current government legislation is “demonstrably inadequate to protect people’s health”, according to the organisation, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH).

Levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in Germany are up to five times higher than the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to DUH.

The complainants are calling for immediate action to bring about “a reduction in dangerous air pollutants from, among other things, traffic, wood burning and agriculture”, said Juergen Resch, national director of DUH.

“Politicians are doing too little to protect people like me who live on a busy road,” said complainant Volker Becker-Battaglia, from Munich.

This time last year, a new coalition government was elected in Germany on a promise to make environmental concerns one of its top priorities.

READ ALSO: Germany should ditch Christmas lights this year, says environmental group

The Greens entered power for the first time in more than two decades, promising that Germany would end coal power and generate 80 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030.

But since then, climate concerns have been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, an acute energy crisis and record inflation.

Germany has accelerated plans to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) by sea and has even decided to reactivate mothballed coal-fired power plants.

In 2021, climate activists won a landmark victory in Germany when the constitutional court ruled that the government’s climate plans were insufficient and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

German environmental groups also last year announced a legal offensive against car giants Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW over their emissions.