German state premier relationship with VW prompts suspicion
Popular German tabloid newspaper Bild- Zeitung published a Sunday edition alleging German politician, Stephan Weil, of being too lenient in a speech criticising Volkswagen for the emissions scandal.
Weil is the leader of the Social Democratic Party in Lower Saxony, where Volkswagen’s headquarters is based.
The weekend version of the newspaper alleges that Weil drafted a letter in October 2015 addressing the emissions scandal but shared it with Volkswagen before amending it to reduce criticism of the company. The newspaper quoted a VW employee saying the company allegedly “rewrote and watered down” parts of Weil’s speech to the state legislature.
“Watered down” statements
Within this speech, Weil labelled Volkswagen “a pearl of German industry” but missed out comments condemning their illegal actions and calling for company executives to be held accountable for their wrongdoings, “regardless of their place in the hierarchy“.
Many are already suspicious of the close relationship the major German car makers have with the German government. With the car makers holding such high stakes in the German economy, those relationships are likely well-maintained.
We can, of course, speculate only on these allegations reported in the press…
Denial of accusations
Unsurprisingly, Weil denies these accusations and his office has issued a statement rebuking the report as “distorting and misleading“. His office admitted they did send the draft to the company for fact checking – statistics and names, for example – but vehemently deny the company had any part in changing sections of the speech to reduce criticism.
Weil’s office maintains that:
“…there were definitely no substantial changes between the first draft and the speech as ultimately delivered.“
Weil is a member of the VW’s supervisory board, and was critical of VW’s decision to delay admitting their emissions cheating from the first time it began discussions with U.S. authorities.
Criminal and civil proceedings remain at large
VW executive, Oliver Schmidt, pleaded guilty for his part in the emissions scandal, and may be facing up to seven years in prison. He may also be liable to pay around £300,000 in fines.
The Bild also printed thumbnail pictures of six, current and former, German politicians who reportedly have close ties with major car makers who have been investigated for emissions scandals. Amongst them includes Foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, who reportedly worked with VW and Daimler, and conservative politician, Eckart von Klaedon, who reportedly began his new role as chief lobbyist for Daimler in 2013.
Thomas Steg was reportedly a spokesman for the government of Lower Saxony for seven years before moving to Volkswagen to become a top lobbyist. Do major German car makers like to employ German politicians, perhaps?
The largest concern is if these former politicians still hold any power or influence in governance. Leader of the Pro-environment Greens party, Cem Ozdemir, believes the “conflation of politics and automotive industry” is to be reckoned with, and is allegedly damaging Germany’s reputation and economy.
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