Daily Briefing

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome: Opel joins the Dieselgate club

Bezirksregierung Köln zu Luftreinhalteplänen
Source: Federico Gambarini/dpa

The wind has changed in Berlin and Rüsselsheim is feeling the bite.

Public prosecutors are doubling down on Opel, charging that 95,000 cars are fitted with those now-familiar cheat devices across Europe. For context, let’s remember that 11 million VW cars are affected, of those 2.6 million in Germany. But it’s bad news for Opel, already suffering from the painful combo of soul searching and cost cutting, amid a corporate culture clash under PSA, its newish French owner. Legal costs are likely to go through the roof and it obviously won’t help the brand, lovingly described as “the most boring car in the world.”

It’s good news for us non-Opelites as Berlin finally clamps down on pollution, thanks to pressure from Brussels on air quality. Merci bien. Fewer thanks to the German authorities, which clearly addressed the causes of Dieselgate with their foot firmly on the brakes. Lawmakers here are gradually withdrawing support for carmakers and seem to be reluctantly moving with the times. I heard this morning that Audi is paying an €800 million fine to close the Dieselgate investigation. All this comes late in the day and if I were a maker of diesel cars, I’d be pleased as punch with this approach. But as an average oxygen-breathing, tax-paying citizen, I just want to punch them.

But these are the baby steps it will take to change, always a painful process. There are voices in the wilderness, such as Herbert Diess of VW, who says the crusade against diesel is fatal, a job killer and that Germany isn’t ready to embrace e-cars. Germany is certainly dragging its feet on electric: 62 percent of all new registrations are gas powered, 33 percent are diesels and only 0.8 percent are purely electric. Berlin, over to you. Pave the way forward.

But here, the blame game is bigger than the will to change. The CSU is caught between licking its wounds and relief it didn’t lose even more votes in Bavaria’s Sunday election. The party’s leaders announced grandly they would humbly consider the message voters are sending (aside from those who died. It turned out the main reason why voters abandoned the CSU during Sunday’s election was death: 240,000 of its voters died, while of those remaining, 220,000 turned to the Free Voters, a local party, and 190,000 went Green.) But for all the talk, the CSU is sticking to what it knows: Horst Seehofer, the party leader, announced he wasn’t stepping down any time soon yesterday, suggesting that the idea had been suggested. Merkel, meanwhile, promised to win back trust, while her allies embroidered their fantasies of her fall, wondering if that could remove Seehofer too in a fell swoop.

And speaking of fantasies, news of a pizza plot in London emerged, as a third of Theresa May’s cabinet met to figure out how to block her Brexit plans. (I’m keeping my thoughts about the kind of post-Brexit pizzas we’ll be eating to myself). The number of people who believe in May’s ability to deliver the kind of Brexit they want is dwindling into negative numbers. She’s not giving up though, determining to keep a cool head and saying a deal is in the interests of both sides. The EU’s ability to provide a cliffhanger is undoubted – think Grexit. But we’re worried, as is the Mittelstand, the companies which form the backbone of the German economy. Brexit could spell a massive tax bill for German businesses with British-based owners. Blame Lex Horten, an obscure law. That has one south German exec in a spin: his son has a job in the City but wants to eventually come back and run the family business. His father says he can’t pass on shares and he definitely shouldn’t die any time soon: “If I do, we’re looking at a hundred million euros in taxes.”

There’s brighter news from Venus, the Berlin sex industry trade fair, that is. “Siri, please increase the buzz and twist function – oh, and play me some slow jams:” it’s all about high tech toys. Estimates suggest the sex toys sector could be worth between $29 billion and $64 billion by 2020, and vibrators play a large part in that. The trend is towards the internet of things, and while the sex industry has often been ahead of the game on technical innovation – think online payment – it’s now playing catchup. But expect a slew of devices and gadgets, measuring performance like sports apps, if that’s the way you like it.

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