The German Automotive Industry vs. the Environment

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under criticism for her party’s acceptance of a €690,000 donation from German automotive giant BMW while campaigning to block an EU CO2 emissions cap. The PDU discusses the events, and how a federalized EU will hinder such situations in the future. By Roisin Berghaus

The Chancellor and Germany's automotive industry - too close by far or just bad timing?

The Chancellor and Germany’s automotive industry – too close by far or just bad timing?

The sequence of events is curious at best and, as Financial Times reporter Quentin Peel states, “ill chosen” at worst. On 9 October, three members of the Quandt family, who jointly own over 46 percent of BMW, donated €230,000 apiece to the Christian Democratic Union. This is the largest private donation the party has received this year. BMW is world-renowned for its luxury cars which, compared to some of their French and Italian competitors, have an above-average CO2 output.

During the past week, negotiations have been taking place at the EU-level to revise a deal struck in July to limit CO2 output to 95g per kilometer for the average car by 2020. On 15 October, it emerged that the German government had successfully convinced representatives from other Member States to delay the implementation of this limit until 2024.

Then, on 16 October, the Quandt family’s donations were published on the German Federal Government’s website. According to parliamentary reports, the family intended to make their donation at the beginning of the year, but instead chose to wait until after the 22 September election in order, according to a spokesperson for the family, to ensure they did not become involved in the election campaign.

The spokesperson insists that the family is in no way connected to industrial policies, such as the one discussed at the EU level at the same time the donation was made. Yet Chancellor Merkel’s connection to the automotive industry is well-known. Germany’s business newspaper the Handelsblatt reported Tuesday that she has had frequent contact with leading car manufacturers. She invited senior management to the Chancellor’s office some 65 times during her last term.

On the other hand, perhaps this issue truly was nothing more than ill timing. Even without such a high-profile donation, the German automotive industry is the lifeblood of the country’s economy. As the Financial Times reported this week, some 600 manufacturers and suppliers employ over 715,000 employees in this industry in Germany. Other Member States thrive on their manufacturing industries as well, which provide specialized parts to German companies. Regardless of the environmental benefits this EU agreement would provide, it is nevertheless in the German government’s best interest to protect this industry, which would be hindered under this new EU agreement.

While other commentators (rightly) focus on the detrimental environmental consequences this latest negotiation will introduce or the dark side of lobbying in Germany, the PDU views this event as yet another example of the every-Member-State-for-herself mentality that the current EU system creates. As long as Member States act as separate entities in EU-level climate negotiations, their national priorities will hinder collaboration that serves the greater good.

We maintain, as we have elsewhere, that the transfer of environmental policies to the EU level will help to uncouple Member State industrial and economic interests from Europe’s struggle to keep rising global temperatures at bay. Indeed, in light of the IPCC’s recent report, it is now more important than ever that the EU work as a unified body to address this issue which may prove devastating to future generations if avoided now.

Image “Merkel with Merc Müllwagen” courtesy of Felix O via Flickr released under creative commons 2.0 attribution.

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