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The last witness: Scheuer as an attacking toll defender | Free press

Berlin (dpa) – As the last witness in the Bundestag committee of inquiry into the failed car toll, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer has extensively defended his actions against criticism. He understood the dissatisfaction with the project, the CSU politician said before questioning in Berlin on Thursday.

“But the fact is, we did the right thing.” Allocation and budget laws were complied with. Scheuer again rejected claims made by the discontinued toll operators against the federal government. The opposition held firm allegations.

For the minister it was the second committee meeting after an initial one-hour hearing on an October evening. In the second leg he presented himself as an attacking defender. Scheuer emphasized several times in his introductory words of 45 minutes that he acted to the best of his knowledge and belief. In all decisions, he focused on the welfare of the federal government and careful investigations at the ministry. On taking office in March 2018, he found a “clear legal, budgetary and political executive mandate” for the toll. “This order was binding on me.”

Scheuer again denied allegations that legal risks had not been sufficiently taken into account – even when the contracts with the operating companies were signed in December 2018 before an upcoming European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling. The judges then dropped the toll in June 2019 because it discriminated against motorists from abroad. Because only residents should receive full reimbursement for the motor vehicle tax toll payments. Scheuer spoke of a “damning judgment”, which made him “completely surprised”. He also recalled the previous green light from the European Commission for the German toll model.

In December 2018, he had to make a ‘balancing decision’, Scheuer explains. One option was to contract a legally and economically extensively researched project, which would have earned the federal government high three-digit millions. The other option would have been to treat a “minimal” residual legal risk as a priority and not to close the contract, but to accept a loss of revenue for the federal government. Scheuer said he would make that decision again from today’s perspective.

He stuck with his line on another controversial point. Operating company managers had testified to the committee that they had offered Scheuer to wait for the verdict to come before signing the contract in the fall of 2018. At the time, the minister objected that he remembered that no such offer had been made – and has now repeated it. He also explicitly justified the termination of operator contracts immediately after the ruling. This was correct in order to optimally protect the interests of the federal government.

The CSU man has already filed several dismissal requests. For the opposition, however, the decision is final after a year of committee work. The second performance didn’t change that. The view that everything was right with the toll had Scheuer “quite exclusive,” said Linke chairman Jörg Cezanne, sticking to the charge that the law on public procurement had been broken. FDP traffic expert Oliver Luksic testified to a reluctance to admit obvious mistakes even at the outset. “Rather than showing a little humility, he avoids questions, puts responsibility on his former secretary of state and points out gaps in his memory.”

Scheuer again divided political responsibility for his CSU’s long-disputed prestige project across a wide area. He was convinced of the usefulness, but the toll was not his project. As minister he was only responsible for ‘a fraction’ of history since the black-red coalition agreement of 2013. It was not about the “CSU toll” then, but about the infrastructure load of the coalition of CDU, CSU and SPD. The laws were passed twice by the Bundestag and Bundesrat, and two federal presidents have investigated them. Even during the negotiations for a Jamaica coalition that eventually fell apart in 2017, an agreement was reached with the FDP and the Greens to continue the toll.

According to the latest witness, Scheuer, the U committee now wants to start with the final report, which should be ready in May or June – shortly before the federal election campaign. Bigger surprises are no longer to be expected. But what does that mean for the minister’s political fate? Union chairman Ulrich Lange (CSU) said before the questioning that Scheuer could remain minister according to the CSU’s conviction. “In retrospect, you are always smarter.” But there was no intersection “where the Ministry of Transport took the wrong turn”.

Scheuer himself was clearly well prepared for his second questioning with witnesses, even a heavy investigation of committee members did not disturb him. In between, when he was blinded by the sun in the hall, he put on a saying, “You can leave the sun, for me the sun is just rising.”

In any case, it should be a bit quieter around the car toll now. But the taxpayer could still face a hefty bill: the originally planned operators are claiming $ 560 million in damages after the federal government canceled contracts immediately after the ruling. An arbitration procedure is ongoing. Scheuer said the claims for damages were unfounded.

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