Morning Briefing

The Whiner-in-Chief

Volkswagen bosses are not to be envied these days. The Stuttgart district attorney’s office is investigating the company’s CEO, Matthias Müller, as well as chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch and former CEO Martin Winterkorn for market manipulation. A US inspector has ensconced himself with a 50-man team in the carmaker’s corporate headquarters and is combing through every email. In an exclusive interview with Handelsblatt’s editor-in-chief Sven Afhüppe, chief executive Matthias Müller and Andreas Renschler, head of VW’s truck division, offer their version of the events – a must-read for those who know there are always two sides to every story.

The past ten days have reduced the leader of the western world to a whining, petulant child. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” exclaimed Donald Trump via Twitter after the US Department of Justice announced it would hire a special investigator to look into Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia. The highly respected former FBI chief Robert Mueller has been tasked with leading the probe. Mueller is far more dangerous for Trump than Hillary Clinton ever was.

As a result of the political turmoil, markets took a dive and the dollar sagged, though both have now made a temporary recovery. Trump’s agenda to lower taxes, invest billions and put “America First” is looking less and less likely – much to the chagrin of investors. It’s hardly a surprise that Trump has turned out to be all bark, no bite. Though now he seems busy chasing his own tail. Sad!

Germany’s leading industrial companies earned more in the first quarter of 2017 than in any previous quarter, according to Handelsblatt estimates. The pretax income of companies in the blue-chip DAX index alone rose by 16 percent. The DAX’s 30 companies generated a total of €37 billion before taxes and interest. Medium-sized companies listed on the MDAX showed even stronger growth rates. Too bad Germans prefer guaranteed losses with the lottery than buying stock.

Winfried Kretschmann, the Green state premier of Baden-Württemberg, is hosting an automotive summit. In a private meeting with the bosses of the German auto industry in Stuttgart, Kretschmann will voice his concern about the industry’s future in the region. High on the agenda: electric cars, digitalization and traineeships. That’s a good thing. It seems the German car industry’s constant heightened state of anxiety is sometimes what drives innovation. Or as The Economist once put it: “Vorsprung durch Panik.”

The role of the media in hyping German chancellor candidate Martin Schulz deserves its own coverage. Much that was presented to readers as fact a few weeks ago now seems like fiction – or fantasy.

The cover of German news magazine “Der Spiegel” dramatically envisioned Merkel’s political “twilight”. The authors, delirious with Schulz fever, looked at the chancellery and hallucinated a landscape of ruins – as well as a Social Democratic phoenix rising from the ashes. Why they failed to question polls predicting a Schulz victory based on the interest generated by the announcement of his candidacy remains a mystery. They woefully misconstrued voter curiosity as a desire for change. If magazines were subject to the same consumer protection laws as diesel engines, Spiegel readers would get their money back – at least for that issue.

German weekly “Die Zeit” also laid it on thick. In their homage to Schulz, “And Then Came Martin,” the authors apologized for the paper’s critical coverage of the SPD in recent years and for having overlooked the “Social Democrats potential.” “Martin Schulz has come at the right time,” they wrote, attributing the party’s comeback to Schulz’s personality and experience.

Bizarrely, the SPD’s three regional defeats have seen Die Zeit express their support even more dogmatically. Following the election debacle in North Rhein-Westphalia, lead political journalist Bernd Ulrich wrote: “There is no doubt that Martin Schulz is a great political talent.” Where faith begins, quality journalism ends. Call it ideological stubbornness – or perhaps a flourishing news institution’s arrogance.

Picture of the Day

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Swiss winegrowers in the town of Rapperswil are using drones to tend their vines. Source: DPA