Opposition Criticism

Berlin Accused of Sluggish Response to VW Scandal

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The VW scandal affected 11 million diesel cars worldwide and has led to accusations that governments including Germany failed to enforce E.U. rules on emissions.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Greens lawmaker Renate Künast, who heads the parliament’s legal affairs and consumer rights committee, accused the government of failing to respond adequately to the diesel scandal.
    • Ms. Künast said the government has repeatedly failed to provide information requested by the committee on consumer rights and possible claims against VW.
    • The VW scandal came to light in September 2015. The automaker installed fraudulent software in diesel cars designed to understate the true level of nitrogen oxide emissions in test conditions.
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    Audio

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Bundestagswahl 2013
Ms. Kunast, like many, is calling on politicians to pick up the pace in pursuing the carmaker for the emissions-cheating scandal. Source: DPA

Germany’s opposition Greens party has accused the government of failing to respond effectively to the VW diesel emissions scandal. “The German government isn’t taking the rights of consumers or lawmakers seriously in the emissions  scandal,” said Greens member Renate Künast, the chairwoman of the parliament’s committee for legal affairs and consumer protection.

“Instead of being in cahoots with the auto industry and hushing up or covering up problems, it should at last clear up what happened, remove legal loopholes for stating emissions and fuel consumption and give consumers the possibility to get compensation and take legal action,” she said.

Ms. Künast said that since the VW scandal came to light in September 2015, the Greens had requested a government report on it no fewer than six times in the committee she chairs, but that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition had used its majority on the committee to reject or postpone the demands five times.

“That’s not transparency,” Ms. Künast said. On November 30, the government postponed its response to a new study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) showing an average discrepancy of 42 percent between the actual fuel consumption of new vehicles and the cited consumption under test conditions. The government was supposed to inform the committee on consumer rights to compensation and on its own policies in the wake of the scandal.

“If the German government had implemented the E.U. directive properly at the time, consumers would have been spared a lot of trouble.”

Renate Künast, Lawmaker for Germany's opposition Greens party

In previous meetings of the committee too, the government had been asked to provide information on the impact of the case and possible civil claims against the automaker. There was only one meeting, on December 16, 2015, at which committee members were able to discuss the scandal with representatives of VW, and the government then only provided a “superficial report” on the legal consequences of the scandal, Ms. Künast said.

“This only happened because we had previously invited the VW representatives ourselves to the committee,” she said.

The parliament has also set up a committee of inquiry into the VW scandal, focusing on the role played by the government. Three cabinet ministers have testified before it so far. Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier and Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks assured lawmakers they  had only learned of VW’s emissions cheating when the scandal became public.

Even though that’s more than a year ago, the government is still dragging its feet in the investigation, said Ms. Künast. The European Commission appears to agree because it launched legal action earlier this year against Germany and six other nations for failing to enforce E.U. emissions rules.

Nitrogen oxide pollution from diesel engines, which power half of all cars in Europe, leads to the premature death of 72,000 people per year, according to European Environmental Agency data.

“If the German government had implemented the E.U. directive properly at the time, consumers would have been spared a lot of trouble,“ Ms. Künast said.

 

Dietmar Neuerer covers domestic politics for Handelsblatt from Berlin. To contact the author: neuerer@handelsblatt.com

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