Berlin (dpa) – He is the last witness. Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer testifies today again in the Bundestag committee of inquiry about the failed car toll.
The CSU man has been at the center of the political reassessment and in the sharp crossfire of the opposition from the start. In early October, he stood before the committee well into the night in an initial interrogation of an hour. Even in the “second stage” he has to stick to his line of defense, which is essentially: as a minister, he enacted a law passed by the Bundestag and the Bundesrat on car tolls.
Scheuer has repeatedly rejected requests for dismissal. For the opposition, however, the verdict is clear after more than a year of committee work: Scheuer has violated public procurement and budget law. Despite the legal risks, he wanted to continue his CSU’s prestige project and hit the wall. The bill poses a threat to taxpayers. Scheuer must resign. FDP traffic expert Oliver Luksic “clearly” made some serious mistakes. “The tactic is very clear: survive one more day.”
In particular, it deals with Scheuer’s role in the implementation of the hotly contested toll, which he took over with already sealed laws. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) abolished the toll in June 2019 because it discriminated against drivers from abroad. Because only residents should receive full reimbursement for the motor vehicle tax toll payments. The once planned toll operators are now demanding 560 million euros in damages after the federal government canceled contracts immediately after the ruling. An arbitration procedure is ongoing. The federal government rejects the financial claims.
Scheuer also vehemently rejects allegations from the political arena. Is there still much to be expected from the new interrogation? Not everyone is safe in the opposition either. There are, of course, other questions. “After the initial poll came down to a festival of memory gaps, Toll Minister Scheuer is responsible,” said Linke chairman Jörg Cezanne. Rather than publicly complaining about opposition allegations, he eventually had to take a full stand.
In Scheuer’s “first leg” in committee, there was a controversial question of testimony against testimony. Several managers of the operating companies indicated that they had offered to wait for the judgment of the Court of Justice in the autumn of 2018 before signing the operating contract. Scheuer objected that he did not remember such an offer.
The interrogation did not start until late in the evening and lasted well into the night because other witnesses had been asked before. That is not to be expected now: the interrogation starts at 12 noon, Scheuer is the only witness. Scheuers’ email inboxes probably play a role. The opposition suspects that the minister is hiding important communications.
After Scheuer’s questioning, the University Committee will start with the final report, which should be ready in May or June. Bigger surprises are no longer to be expected. But what does that mean for the minister’s political fate?
Coalition partner SPD has not yet resigned to Scheuers. SPD chairman Kirsten Lühmann said the minister had stated several times that he had made no mistakes and would therefore not resign. CSU boss Markus Söder has to decide whether Scheuer is still acceptable in office given the loss of public confidence. In view of the conflicting statements about an operator’s alleged offer, Lühmann said, “We will not be able to clarify, however much the opposition takes it.” A lie cannot be proven to the minister. But there was “organized irresponsibility” in the ministry. “Responsibility was shifted back and forth.”
Union Obman Ulrich Lange (CSU) said to the re-interrogation: “I don’t see a bomb anymore.” According to the CSU ministers, Scheuer could stay. “The opposition has long ceased to be interested in enlightenment, but only in secondary war theaters.” Scheuer could not have demonstrated any legally relevant errors, said Lange. “You are always smarter afterwards. But the series of decisions was coherent and strict. There was no intersection where the Department of Transportation took the wrong turn. ‘