Saturday

21st Oct 2017

Investigation

Oettinger left no trace of VW Dieselgate meeting

  • EU commissioner Oettinger exiting an electric vehicle. His previous portfolio under Barroso was energy (Photo: European Commission)

A meeting about Dieselgate between Germany's EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger and Volkswagen, revealed by EUobserver in September, left no written record, further investigation shows.

Oettinger and a representative of the German carmaker met on 25 January 2016 in Brussels.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Screenshot of EU commission's transparency register

The main topic, according to the commission's official transparency register of meetings, was “diesel emissions” - a euphemism for Volkswagen's worldwide cheating on nitrogen oxide emission tests with 11 million diesel vehicles.

The topic raised questions because the German commissioner's portfolio is digital economy, and not industry or consumer protection. He was energy commissioner under Jose Manuel Barroso until 2014.

EUobserver requested “any minutes, verbatim reports, or other documents with a record of what was said” during the meeting, as well as any other documents related to meetings between Oettinger and VW.

The commission sent what it called "the documents requested", which means that no minutes or record existed for the January meeting.

The commission did disclose e-mails between Volkswagen and Oettinger's cabinet. On 20 January 2016, someone from Volkswagen asked if the company could have “a small conversation” with Oettinger“ on the margins of our New Year's reception”.

A spokesman for the EU commission gave EUobserver a comment by e-mail, but did not reply to the questions: why were no minutes kept? and what was said during the meeting?

"Like all members of the college, commissioner Oettinger regularly meets many different stakeholders to discuss issues of importance to the commission," the commission spokesman noted.

Volkswagen's lobby office in Brussels never responded to questions from this website.

It is unclear why no summary of the meeting was made. In the documents provided, the commission did disclose a summary of another, earlier, meeting.

At a lunch meeting on 2 July 2015, three topics were discussed: digitisation of the transport sector and the Digital Single Market (DSM), EU-US trade talks on TTIP, and “emission reduction targets”.

Volkswagen told Oettinger that a “95g CO2 target for new cars as of 2020 [is] difficult to reach for VW”.

The CO2 target – relating to climate change, while Dieselgate is related to pollutant nitrogen oxides – was agreed by European Parliament and EU member states in early 2014.

The private statement, that the target is hard to reach, is in complete contradiction with a press release Volkswagen had issued in 2013, when it said it was “committing to reducing the CO2 output of the European new car fleet to 95 grams per kilometer by 2020”.

But why lobby Oettinger, who has nothing to do with emissions standards?

Common lobbying practice

It is not uncommon for lobbyists and campaigners to talk to commissioners who are not directly involved in a certain file.

Greg Archer of the environmental lobby group Transport & Environment (T&E) met with several commissioners ahead of the publication of a new strategy for low-emission mobility, he told EUobserver.

"When a major file goes into inter-service consultation this is standard practice," he said.

Inter-service consultation is a process by which a directorate-general which is drafting a proposal, asks other commission departments for comments on the plan.

In the context of that strategy, T&E met with climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, transport commissioner Violeta Bulc, and Oettinger.

There were two reasons to meet Oettinger, said Archer.

“He’s German and Germany has disproportionate influence on vehicle regulations – we were particularly keen on explaining the benefits of truck standards where there was a difference of opinion within German ministries,” said Archer.

Secondly, Oettinger's “digital economy responsibilities are important for connected vehicles”.

No minutes were kept, said T&E.

Transparency

The commission under Jean-Claude Juncker has increased transparency compared to the previous administration, by publishing meetings with lobbyist and including a topic.

The fact that a commissioner had a meeting, does not automatically mean he or she was persuaded by the lobbyist.

Archer described Oetinger as a “consummate professional politician” who said nothing himself.

But despite the new rules, there is still room for a lot of improvement.

The 2015 lunch discussion that included CO2 emissions, was filed in the register as being about “DSM, digitalisation in the car sector”.

The other topics are not mentioned, and it would not have been public they were discussed, had the minutes not been released after the freedom of information request.

VW lobbyist met German EU commissioner

VW spent €2.8m on lobbying in Brussels in 2015. Earlier this year, it met with commissioner Oettinger to discuss "diesel emissions", even though it's not his portfolio.

Oettinger apologises over China insults

The future commission vice-president admitted in a statement that his words "have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people".

MEPs criticise Oettinger's 'judgement'

The German commissioner says it was normal to travel by a private jet owned by a German businessman. MEPs, with the exception of Oettinger's own EPP group, are gearing up to grill him.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement