Why has the EU let German car manufacturers off the hook?

Two billion? Five billion? Perhaps ten billion to make it a nice round number? For colluding on diesel emissions you might think the European Union would hand out a pretty stiff fine to the big German auto-manufacturers. After all, it has hit American tech giants with huge penalties for far lesser transgressions.  Yet in the end, its response was predictable: the EU has largely let them off the hook. The reason? It turns out that protecting German auto manufacturers is what the Commission really cares about – and nothing else matters. According to Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s anti-trust chief, German manufacturers ‘possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU

The ECJ’s air pollution ruling against Britain is hard to swallow

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the UK ‘systematically and persistently’ breached EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NOx) emissions in 16 areas including London, Manchester and Glasgow between 2010 and 2017. It’s a judgement that means, despite Brexit, that a multi-million euro fine may be on its way. The UK is leaving the ECJ behind us; but as part of the withdrawal deal, we have agreed to respect its rulings on cases already in progress – and this one started in 2018. I’d be wholly in favour of the UK being fined gazillions for our historically appalling emissions – with one important caveat, which I’ll come to. After

A museum-quality car-boot sale: V&A’s Cars reviewed

We were looking at a 1956 Fiat Multipla, a charming ergonomic marvel that predicted today’s popular MPVs. Rather grandly, I said to my guide: ‘I think you’ll find the source of the Multipla in an unrealised 1930s design of Mario Revelli di Beaumont.’ He looked a bit blank. This exhibition is a rare attempt to explain the car, perhaps the most dramatic since the Museum of Modern Art’s 1951 New York show where Philip Johnson coined the term ‘rolling sculpture’. It is both occasionally brilliant and continuously exasperating. Rather as if in a crowded restaurant you are overhearing snatches of fascinating conversation coming from different tables. The context is significant.

Why have I bought a car I don’t actually like?

I am currently in Brittany with the family, having made the 11-hour drive from London on Monday. It sounds like quite a lot of effort for a few days’ holiday, but my friend Wendy Steavenson invited us to stay and that so rarely happens when you’ve got four children that we felt we couldn’t turn her down. No doubt Wendy will regret this after 24 hours, as nearly all our previous hosts have. The journey wasn’t as much of an ordeal as it sounds since Caroline did the driving and I sat in the back and read Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West. It’s a highly readable, 351-page polemical essay

Scandals that make you switch off

Do any of us honestly have any idea how serious the Hillary Clinton email scandal was? I haven’t got a clue. Her actions could have been a neglectful oversight or a heinous criminal act. We don’t know. Clinton was an avid BlackBerry user and, on becoming secretary of state, claimed she didn’t know how to handle email on the desktop computer the government provided. When the National Security Agency was unable to find a secure way of sending classified information via her BlackBerry, Hillary simply continued using it, along with the old email address and server she had used while out of office. She never had an @state.gov email address:

Portrait of the week | 5 November 2015

Home The all-party Foreign Affairs Committee urged David Cameron, the Prime Minister, not to press ahead with a Commons vote on British air strikes against Islamic State positions in Syria. At its conference, Scottish Labour adopted a policy of opposition to Trident renewal, though Kezia Dugdale, its leader, remained in favour, while the Labour party in the United Kingdom as a whole favoured retaining the nuclear deterrent, though its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, opposes it. Britain was smothered in fog, except in Wales, where temperatures on 1 November reached a record 22˚C. A man had his ear bitten off in a pub in Aberystwyth on Halloween. Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen

Barometer | 8 October 2015

The death of Diesel The Volkswagen scandal has brought into question the future of the diesel engine. A century ago its inventor, Rudolf Diesel, was himself the subject of scandal. On 29 September 1913 he disappeared from the steamship Dresden on its way from Antwerp to Harwich. He had retired to his cabin after dinner but had not changed into his bedclothes. His body was found off Norway ten days later. He was apparently on his way to discuss selling diesel engines to the Royal Navy for submarines, leading to suspicions that he had been murdered to prevent the technology falling into British hands. His financial situation, however, pointed to

Rory Sutherland

We let programmers run our lives. So how’s their moral code?

A few years ago, in the week before Christmas when supermarket sales are at their highest, staff at one branch of a leading British chain regularly did the rounds of local competitors’ shops buying up their entire stock of Brussels sprouts. It was, in its ethically dubious way, an interesting experiment. You might assume frustrated shoppers would merely buy all the other things on their list and then go somewhere else for their sprouts. They didn’t. As the perpetrators suspected, spending 30 minutes in a shop knowing that you’ll eventually have to make a separate trip to buy sprouts feels like wasted time — so people promptly left to find

Where there’s smoke…

What fun it is watching again all those smug Volkswagen ads on YouTube, featuring men in mid-life crisis revving up their Golfs and Passats. German carmakers vie with French farmers for their sacred status in the European Union. That it has taken US authorities to sniff out the company’s cheating on emissions tests doesn’t say much for European environmental law, which is good at telling us we can only have low-powered kettles, but apparently unable to sniff out high emissions from overpowered diesel cars. But the VW scandal isn’t just a story of corporate turpitude. It is part-product of an environmental policy in Britain as much as across the EU

Perfectionism isn’t the same as integrity – as Volkswagen has shown

Not that I was much of a boy racer, but the sexiest car I ever owned was a 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco with the lines of a paper dart and the cornering of a cheetah. I once drove it overnight from the City to Tuscany with a blind date who barely uttered a word, en route or afterwards. In an era when British factories could make nothing better than a laughable Allegro or a downmarket Escort, everyone coveted a German car — the top choice for twenty-somethings being the VW Golf convertible (Sciroccos were rarer) whose quality came as a revelation after years of broken fanbelts and burst radiators on unreliable

Portrait of the week | 24 September 2015

Home In a speech at the Shanghai stock exchange, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a feasibility study into the trading of Chinese and British shares in both countries. At least half of all British banknotes in circulation are held overseas or used in the black market, a Bank of England report suggested. The political impasse in Northern Ireland continued. Sir David Willcocks, the director of choirs, died, aged 95. Brian Sewell, the art critic, died aged 84. Jackie Collins, the author of titillating blockbusters, died aged 77. An outbreak of highly drug-resistant gonorrhoea was detected in the north of England, from Oldham to Scunthorpe. Lord Ashcroft, who

George Osborne is entitled to look smug

The popular pastime for financial commentators this season is sticking pins in George Osborne. To those on the left who hate everything about him, to those on the right who think he should have used the fiscal crisis as an opportunity to slash state spending far more than he did, to those in the middle who prefer their politicians to be vacillating blunderers blown by fate, and thereby easier targets, this Chancellor is pretty bloody irritating. The UK is expected to be the G7’s fastest-growing economy this year, and Osborne’s doubters at the IMF have had to admit, in a mealy-mouthed way, that they were wrong to try to point