Motor vehicles accounted for 19 percent of German exports last year, the largest single category of goods and a literal driver of the national economy, according to the Deutsche Bundesbank.
In addition to providing a large share of the German economy, vehicle manufacturing accounts of one-seventh of all German jobs, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
And of Germany’s vehicle manufacturers, Volkswagen is number one, as well as the world’s second-ranking carmaker.
Last week the German parliament announced it was launching an investigation to see if government officials may have been involved in covering up the biggest scandal ever to hit German carmakers, as Agence France Presse reported at the time:
German governments have traditionally had very close ties to the automobile industry which is one of the biggest employers in the country and one of its most important export sectors.
Given those links, critics have suggested that the government may have played a part in enabling carmakers to get around pollution regulations and skew the emissions data of their engines.
VW was forced to admit last September that it had installed sophisticated software into 11 million engines with the express purpose of duping emissions tests.
The global scandal triggered by the revelations has come to be known as “Dieselgate”.
And now, reports Spiegel Online, documents have revealed that the German government has known about the rigged emissions systems since at least 2010:
Since at least 2010, the European Commission has been in possession of concrete evidence that automobile manufacturers were cheating on emissions values of diesel vehicles, according to a number of internal documents that SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained. The papers show that emissions cheating had been under discussion for years both within the Commission and the EU member state governments. The documents also show that the German government was informed of a 2012 meeting on the issue. The scandal first hit the headlines in 2015 when it became known that Volkswagen had manipulated the emissions of its diesel vehicles.
EU member state governments were also apparently aware of possible emissions manipulation well before the VW scandal hit the headlines. In May 2012, a Commission official sent an email to relevant ministries in several EU countries, including the British, French and German environment ministries, describing a meeting of the Real Driving Emissions of Light-Duty Vehicles (RDE-LDV) working group. Led by the European Commission, the body includes representatives from EU member states, the Joint Research Centre, the automotive industry and NGOs. It focuses on emissions testing procedures.
“Yesterday, we had a quite hot (in any sense) RDE-LVD (sic!) meeting,” the email begins. Automobile manufacturers, it notes, “strongly resist” the introduction of PeMS testing during the type approval stage. One possible reason, the email notes, is the desire for “leaving the door open” to avoiding emissions test cycles.
Shortly thereafter, the sensitive information made it all the way up to Antonio Tajani, who was European commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship at the time. In summer 2012, he was notified by the autoparts supplier Schrader Electronics — both by letter and in a personal meeting — about the software manipulations being undertaken by automobile manufacturers. But again, nothing happened.
The lack of action created friction within the Commission. While there are 28 commissioners — one for each EU member state — the commission is broken down into 33 departments, known as “directorates-general,” each led by a director general. In November 2014, Karl Falkenberg, director general of the environment department, sent a letter to his counterpart Daniel Calleja Crespo, who led the Enterprise and Industry department and answered to Commissioner Tajani. The letter bluntly demanded that Crespo do his job, requesting that he check to see if “certain current practices documented extensively by the JRC [the EU’s Joint Research Center]” are consistent with the law.
Corporations really are more powerful that nation-states, capable of bending agencies to their will by virtue of their vast economic power and accumulated wealth.