Berlin (dpa) – The Bundestag committee of inquiry into the failed car toll is right at home after more than a year of work. The opposition sees the accusations against Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer confirmed. The CSU politician is still in office. He denies allegations.
This week three meetings of the U committee are planned. Today there is a department head from, among others, the Ministry of Transport. On Thursday former Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU), who was in office from 2013 to 2017 – until he was followed by Scheuer.
At the end of the witness interviews at the end of January, the current Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management will be heard again. The final report is then written. “The latest and most politically important investigations will now follow”, said committee chair Udo Schiefner (SPD). “I am excited about this latest sprint.”
This is the point: The committee must provide clarity about the behavior of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management since the signing of the coalition agreement between the CDU / CSU and the SPD in 2013 in connection with the preparation and introduction of the later failed car toll. This mainly concerns the tendering procedure, the subsequent termination of the collection and control contracts and the resulting consequences.
So it is not a commission of inquiry against Scheuer. This is one of the reasons why Schiefner warned at the start of the work in December 2019 not to turn the committee into a “political show stage”. Nevertheless, Scheuer’s role was at the forefront – and the obvious goal of the opposition to achieve his resignation. That’s why CSU MP Michael Frieser complained in the Bundestag that the opposition only wanted a circus and not the search for the truth.
“So far the committee has not made any surprising findings,” said Union chairman Ulrich Lange (CSU). “The allegations of the opposition have not been confirmed.”
The opposition sees it very differently. Green Parliamentary Deputy Oliver Krischer said that in order to implement the toll, Scheuer systematically and deliberately violated budgetary and public procurement laws – and hastily terminated contracts for the implementation of the car toll without knowing exactly what the damage is. “The effect: as much damage as possible can occur.”
FDP President Christian Jung spoke of a number of “obvious violations”, not only of European law, but also of budgetary and public procurement laws. Therefore, at the end of the evaluation, a determination could be made between organizational errors, lack of control mechanisms and misuse of responsibility. Left-wing chairman Jörg Cezanne said: “In the context of the previous handling of the toll disaster, it became clear that Ministers Dobrindt and Scheuer wanted to maintain the CSU foreign toll regardless of losses.”
Scheuer himself accused the opposition that their goal was not an actual reappraisal. On Deutschlandfunk he pointed out again that he had implemented a law as minister: “No more, no less.”
The minister’s first questioning last October was the highlight of the toll commission so far. But in the end there was one statement against one statement. Because Scheuer and managers of the former operating companies spoke to each other in central representations.
The managers had stated that they had offered Scheuer to wait for the European Court of Justice (CJEU) to reach a decision in the fall of 2018 before signing the contract for the toll operator – also because there was a large gap between the company’s offer and the budgeted budget. But Scheuer refused. The minister, on the other hand, testified: According to his recollection, there was no offer from the operator to delay the conclusion of a contract until a judgment of the Court of Justice.
An important accusation from the opposition is that Scheuer concluded the toll contracts before there was legal certainty. The Court of Justice overturned the toll in June 2019 because it disadvantaged drivers from abroad. Immediately after the verdict, the federal government canceled the contracts and the operators are now demanding heavy damages – at the expense of the taxpayer. The proposed operators are claiming 560 million euros in damages and an arbitration procedure is pending.
The opposition questioned the minister’s credibility but failed when they re-asked Scheuer and manager at the same time. In addition to the Union, the SPD also voted against this. The SPD plays a not insignificant role in the question of why Scheuer is still in office. After his appearance on the committee in October, SPD chairman Kirsten Lühmann said that while the survey did not provide the clarity that had been hoped for, Scheuer also could not prove false statements.
The SPD did not bow its thumb and openly demanded the dismissal of the minister. That could have caused problems for the coalition partner. Scheuer was and is certainly not uncontroversial within the CSU. A year ago, CSU boss Markus Söder was open to a reshuffle of the cabinet – it seemed as if Scheuer’s chair, in particular, was wobbling. But then came the corona crisis.
And Scheuer is still in office. He certainly has something on the bright side during his tenure – for example significantly more money for the railways or an agreement under the German presidency of the EU Council on new toll rules for trucks. In addition to the car toll, there is also the mess surrounding the new fine catalog, which is still out of action due to a formal error in the road traffic regulations. Krischer said Scheuer’s misconduct on the toll was enough for at least three layoffs. Jung said: Only the Corona crisis has saved Scheuer from his failure.