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Photograph: Photo by alang7, used under CC BY

The European Union should have the power to fine car manufacturers that violate environmental or safety regulations, the bloc's executive proposed Wednesday, as part of a bid to step up oversight of the automobile sector following the Volkswagen scandal.

The United States discovered last year a so-called defeat device in several Volkswagen diesel models that lowered emissions readings when a car would undergo testing. The German carmaker later admitted that it had installed illegal software in some 11 million cars worldwide.

"The revelations of wrongdoing at Volkswagen ... are not only shocking, but also underline urgent need for change," European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said Wednesday. "We have to make sure that it never happens again."

"With our proposals today, we will raise the quality and independence of vehicle testing and improve the oversight of cars already in circulation," EU Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska added.

The commission had already been reviewing EU rules on market approvals for cars prior to the Volkswagen scandal, but it showed that a "more far-reaching reform" was needed, the Brussels institution said.

Under existing rules, national authorities in the 28-country EU are alone responsible for checking that a vehicle meets the bloc's safety, environmental and production requirements before it is allowed to be placed on the European market.

The commission is now proposing that it get more of a say in the matter. It notably wants the power to fine manufacturers that breach EU rules - for instance through the use of defeat devices - 30,000 euros (32,621 dollars) per vehicle; to make spot checks on vehicles already on the market; and to initiate recalls if problems are found.

Car manufacturers, meanwhile, should provide access to data on their car's software to make it more difficult to circumvent emissions requirements, the commission said.

The EU proposal also includes measures to avoid conflicts of interest between car manufacturers and test laboratories and to allow for regular audits of testing services. Those found to be too lax in applying the rules could be suspended or fined by the commission.

To come into effect, the new measures would have to be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament.

The commission's proposal was met with cross-party praise in the EU legislature on Wednesday, except from its third-largest political faction, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). That group accused the commission of "launching a power grab with a new army of EU clipboard inspectors."

The Transport and Environment advocacy group, meanwhile, criticized the proposal for not including the possibility of sanctions against national authorities, arguing that their "cosy relationship with carmakers" played a role in the Volkswagen scandal.

But Katainen argued that the package of new measures would make EU rules practically fraud-proof.

"If there is a person who is still capable to circumvent all the requirements or is capable to cheat the new proposal, the person must be really a pathological case," he said.

Others questioned whether the commission would be able to win over EU member states, notably car-producing nations such as Germany.

"Today's proposals are certainly welcome, but they are proposals," Green EU lawmaker Bas Eickhout said. "It remains to be seen if EU governments, which have continually blocked stricter regulation of the car industry, will play ball."

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