VW deception menaces Germany’s future

The Local Germany editor Tom Barfield argues that Volkswagen's irresponsible dodging of emissions limits endangers Germany's economic well-being and its most important diplomatic objectives.

VW deception menaces Germany's future
How much longer with Volkswagen be synonymous with 'Das Auto'?

Read German headlines on the scandal over Volkswagen's (VW) cover-up of its diesel vehicles' high emissions and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the only thing at stake was who will be the next CEO or how low the share price has plunged.

And it's true that the internal company manoeuvering will make for fine spectator sport in the coming weeks – and that the company's plunge in the stock markets will likely create an opportunity for daring investors.

But a company as global in scale as VW – which turned over €200 billion from its sales in 153 countries last year – doesn't operate in a vacuum.

It's one of the brands that has come to stand for Germany abroad, and for everything that German-made goods represent – good design, high-quality engineering, flawless manufacturing and impeccable reliability.

That goes for everything from Braun beard trimmers to Airbus A380 fuselage sections and hundred-metre-tall wind turbines.

Recent statistics from the Bundesbank (German central bank) show that Germany sold goods and services worth €1,319,358,000,000 – more than €1.3 trillion – abroad in 2013 and achieved a trade surplus (exporting more than it imported) of €220 billion.

If just one of Germany's globally respected brands is shown to have abused the trust placed in it by hundreds of millions of people, the damage to the country's reputation as a whole could send those numbers tumbling.

Corporate reputations are hard to earn and easy to ruin. National reputations are less fragile, yet when iconic companies like Volkswagen become part of a national image, their missteps can hurt that image – and the exports it brings.

And Germany really doesn't want to find out what it means to be one of those eurozone countries – like Greece or Spain – which haven't been able to export their way to success.

What's worse, the Volkswagen scandal comes at a time when as a nation Germany has been leading the way in environmental protection.

Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully fought for agreement between the G7 nations in June over a binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to keep global warming to below two degrees.

Chancellor Angela Merkel with US President Barack Obama and other world leaders at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria in June. Photo: DPA

She has tried to have her own country lead by example by taking a big gamble on the “Energiewende” (energy transition), giving up nuclear power and highly-polluting forms of generation like brown coal and pushing for clean energy.

Germany has been pushing hard to get other nations to follow suit in the run-up to the COP 21 climate conference in Paris this December, which has been billed as a last chance to achieve a binding agreement on limiting man-made climate change.

Those goals won't be achieved by diplomats sitting around a table, but by ordinary people and companies honestly putting into practice the agreements they reach – something people everywhere will be questioning in the wake of the VW scandal.

And other nations are now even more sure to ask why they should agree to hobble their own industries while those of advanced countries like Germany get to both make and break the rules.

Resentment and disbelief in Europe and the US' good faith at the negotiating table could hobble negotiations whose outcome is far more important than the ultimate fate of Volkswagen, or even that of the Federal Republic of Germany.

That's why Chancellor Angela Merkel called late on Tuesday for “full transparency” and for VW to “clear up the entire matter” as soon as possible.

Because VW's lies and cover-up don't just threaten 500,000 jobs at the company, or billions of Euros in trade, but the guttering light of hope that mankind can overcome the climate crisis in the most German way possible – a hard-fought consensual agreement reached around a negotiating table.

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Two hospitalized in Munich after activist crashes parachute into Euro 2020 stadium

At least two people were hospitalised Tuesday after a Greenpeace activist crash-landed on the pitch before the Germany-France match at Euro 2020 when his powered parachute microlight struck spidercam cables at Munich's Allianz Arena.

Two hospitalized in Munich after activist crashes parachute into Euro 2020 stadium
The activist lands on the turf of the Allianz Arena. credit: dpa | Christian Charisius

The pilot flew over the pitch just before kick-off in the Group F clash with “Kick out oil” written on the canopy of his parachute.

However, when the pilot hit television cables above the pitch, it knocked his microlight off balance and he landed on the turf after clipping one of the stands, where the casualties happened.

The activist was arrested soon after landing.

A Munich police spokesman told AFP that at least two people suffered head injuries and “both had to be taken to hospital, we don’t know yet how serious the injuries are”.

The police spokesman said the activist appears to have escaped injury, but “we are considering various criminal charges. Munich police has zero understanding for political actions that put lives at risk”.

UEFA also slammed the botched stunt.

“This inconsiderate act – which could have had very serious consequences for a huge number of people attending – caused injuries to several people attending the game who are now in hospital and law authorities will take the necessary action,” European football’s governing body said in a statement.

The parachutist above the stadium. Photo: dpa | Matthias Balk

“The staging of the match was fortunately not impacted by such a reckless and dangerous action, but several people were injured nonetheless.”

The stunt was a protest against German car manufacturer Volkswagen, one of the sponsors of the European Championship, Greenpeace explained in a Twitter post.

“UEFA and its partners are fully committed to a sustainable Euro 2020 tournament and many initiatives have been implemented to offset carbon emissions,” said UEFA.

Greenpeace said they regretted any harm caused.

“This protest was never intended to disrupt the game or hurt people,” read a Twitter post on Greenpeace’s official German account.

“We hope that everyone is OK and that no one was seriously injured. Greenpeace actions are always peaceful and non-violent.”

“Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan.”

READ MORE: Climate activists rage as Germany opts for drawn-out coal exit