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Konrad Werner: Merkel’s government and the car industry are identical

Merkel just hired Opel's chief lobbyist as her campaign manager. Because that's what CDU governments do.

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Photo by Rudolf Simon (CC BY-SA 3.0)

If you’ve been waiting for an update on what Germany is doing about the way German carmakers are poisoning people, so has everyone. It’s been two years since the US Environmental Protection Agency found out that Volkswagen had been using illegal software to violate environmental standards, and VW admitted that 11 million of its diesel cars were filling the air with much more NOx than they were supposed to.

Saying “poisoning people” is not being all dramatic, by the way. That is what is happening: According to this study, “These fraudulent emissions are associated with 45 thousand disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and a value of life lost of at least $39 billion USD, which is approximately 5.3 times larger than the $7.3 billion that Volkswagen Group has set aside to cover worldwide costs related to the diesel emissions scandal.”

But still, the German government is taking some sweet time to uncover and punish these crimes – even though cars from Audi, Porsche (both VW-owned), BMW, Mercedes, and Opel have long since been implicated too. (Even if they don’t use actually illegal software, studies by environmental groups have shown that basically all carmakers do whatever they can to manipulate lab tests in their favour. Sometimes the NOx emissions go 17 times over the legal limit when the car is out on the road.)

This week, the environmental organization BUND got bored of waiting, and attempted to force the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (KBA – the government authority that is supposed to monitor car emissions) to ban the sale of diesel cars with the latest “Euro 6” emissions standard, on the grounds that they have much higher emissions test results on roads as they do on test stands.

The court said no, arguing that cars were allowed to have discrepancies between test results and actual emissions. So what is the point of having emissions standards at all? Hmm.

If you’re looking for an explanation for why the KBA might not be zealous about prosecuting car companies, it’s because their boss, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, promised not to be too arsed to the German auto industry last year.

According to documents leaked to Stern magazine, Dobrindt went to a meeting at the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) in January 2016 and said that he would not be “confronting” carmakers over the manipulation, but “cooperating” with them. The same magazine also found out that European Commission secretly thinks Dobrindt is being too soft on carmakers, and keeps sending him memos about it.

While all this is happening, it was announced last week that Angela Merkel’s campaign manager for the September election is someone called Joachim Koschnicke – who up until now has been Opel’s “Vice President for European Government Relations” – in other words one of Germany’s top lobbyists for the car industry. And a long-time CDU member. The CDU and Germany’s auto industry has what people sometimes call a lot of “personnel overlap.”