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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‘Best quality’: What you should know about Vienna’s drinking water

As Europe suffered its worst drought in centuries, residents in Austria's capital were feeling fortunate for their plentiful water supply that courses from streams in the green forests of the Alps.

'Best quality': What you should know about Vienna's drinking water

A rarety in the EU, the two million inhabitants of Vienna get their tap water from dozens of springs — the main one some 655 metres (2,150 feet) above sea level.

It’s a serious subject in Vienna, where access to clean drinking water has since 2001 even been guaranteed in the constitution — a world first, according to the city’s website.

“Vienna is in the fortunate position that, as a city of millions, firstly, we have enough water and secondly, that it’s water of the best quality,” Juergen Czernohorszky, Vienna councillor in charge of the environment, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Austria’s world-class drinking water

The summer of 2022 was the hottest in Europe’s recorded history, as climate change drives ever longer heat spells and the drought parching the continent was the worst in at least 500 years.

Yet at the main Klaeffer spring feeding Vienna, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) outside the capital, the underground source bears water that is less than six degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperature.

Some 10,000 litres (2,600 gallons) per second flow out from the Klaeffer spring alone, feeding a river named Salza that coils down a steep uninhabited valley.

The water system was set up about a century and a half ago under the Austro-Hungarian Empire to provide the city with fresh water to overcome diseases such as cholera.

READ ALSO: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

Today, the city’s sanctuary still encompasses 70 sources in untouched mountains south-west of the capital with a system of 130 aqueducts.

A pipe that connects Vienna through a 90-meter long tunnel with the Klaeffer spring is pictured near Gusswerk. The water system was set up almost a century and a half ago under the Austro-Hungarian Empire to provide the city with fresh water to overcome diseases such as cholera. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Thirty-one reservoirs in and around the city store the water, drawing officials from as far away as China to marvel at them, municipal water company Wiener Wasser spokeswoman Astrid Rompolt told AFP.

Each Viennese consumes around 130 litres of running water per day for some 30 euro cents ($0.30) — 15 cents cheaper than the same amount in Paris.

In Vienna, there is also enough to feed fountains, swimming pools, 1,300 drinking water fountains and even 175 mist showers that allow passers-by to cool off in the light spray.

READ ALSO: What makes Vienna the ‘most liveable city’ and where can it improve?

The growing city plans to renovate 30 kilometres of pipeline per year to prepare for increasingly hot summers expected as the impacts of climate change intensify.