Merkel tells German car makers to act in emissions scandal

Berlin: Chancellor Angela Merkel returned to the election fray on Saturday with an ultimatum for Germany’s crisis-hit car industry: take decisive action in the ongoing diesel emissions scandal, or risk losing more of the public’s trust and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Merkel made the comments in a speech to her fellow conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in the north-western industrial city of Dortmund. The CDU event kicked off the final stage of her campaign for a fourth term ahead of Germany’s national election on September 24.
The chancellor’s speech represented the first time she has publicly commented on the series of crises that have engulfed the car industry in recent weeks and turned the political power of automakers into a campaign issue.
Honesty is part of the German economy, Merkel said — something that has been jeopardised by recalls of diesel vehicles and reports that VW, Audi, Porsche, BMW and Daimler had been members of a secret cartel since the 1990s.
“Large parts of the automobile industry have gambled away an incredible amount of confidence,” Merkel said.
Germany’s car industry has been unable to shake public scrutiny following the Volkswagen emissions scandal that emerged in 2015. It was then that the Wolfsburg-based car maker admitted to installing software that cheated emissions tests in more than 11 million vehicles around the world.
“We want a strong auto car industry,” Merkel said. “We also want high environmental standards.”
Cities across Germany are now considering banning diesel vehicles to improve pollution levels in urban centres, and the measures agreed to by German carmakers at an extraordinary diesel summit on August 2 were widely criticised as inadequate in addressing emission concerns.
Merkel said if Germany was to remain a major centre for the car industry, it had to focus on the development of alternative automotive transport technologies.
“The question is whether the German automotive industry has recognised these signs of the times and will decide their future… and with it, the future of hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Merkel told her audience.
The chancellor used the Dortmund event to publicly reject a call from her rivals in next month’s election, the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP), for the introduction of binding quotas on the number of electric vehicles registered Europe-wide.
The chancellor’s speech also followed a sudden drop in her approval ratings: Voter support fell to 59 per cent last week from 69 per cent in July, according to one poll published this week by public broadcaster ARD.
Despite Merkel’s slump in approval, opinion polls continue to show the CDU and its Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), retaining a commanding lead of about 40 per cent voter support.
Support for the SPD stands at about 24 per cent, which is lower than the 25.7 per cent support the party received in the last election.
In her speech in Dortmund, Merkel also returned to the main economic themes of her campaign to remain at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy, stressing a steady fall in unemployment to a historic low during her tenure. — dpa