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18th Jan 2021

Pro-EU network teams up with VW for integrity event

  • Having Volkswagen as a co-organiser will give the company visibility at an event on integrity (Photo: Volkswagen Belgium)

An EU-funded federalist network organisation has teamed up with German carmaker Volkswagen Group (VW) to organise a public event in Brussels on integrity, transparency, and good corporate citizenship.

The network, European Movement International (EMI), on its event page, promised a "frank and open discussion".

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"We wanted to use the Volkswagen example to discuss the failings in the corporate world," EMI's secretary general, Petros Fassoulas, told EUobserver in an interview on Monday (12 February).

The decision to hold the event in co-operation with Volkswagen - rather than merely having invited a Volkswagen speaker - was criticised earlier that day by the head of the pan-EU consumer network Beuc.

"How can you team up with them?" asked Beuc's Monique Goyens, noting that European consumers have still not received compensation from the German carmaker following the Dieselgate scandal, which erupted in September 2015.

VW equipped around 8.5 million diesel cars in Europe with so-called defeat devices, which recognised that the car was being tested. In reality, VW's diesel cars were much dirtier than the test results suggested.

For years, the company tried to hide its emissions fraud from the European authorities, and has decided to keep secret a report on how the emissions scandal was allowed to happen.

More recently, it was revealed that VW had paid an institute in the United States to force monkeys to breathe in toxic diesel emissions, in an attempt to produce research results that put diesel in a favourable light.

At the event, which is scheduled to take place on 8 March, the carmaker will be represented by Hiltrud D. Werner, VW's management board member in charge of integrity and legal affairs since February 2017.

Werner will give a speech and then take part in a panel discussion.

The debate will also include European ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, the director of Transparency International and the director-general of the lobby organisation BusinessEurope, as well as Fassoulas. It will be moderated by a BBC journalist.

EMI's secretary general noted that his organisation has had regular conversations with VW.

VW's main EU lobbyist, Christof-Sebastian Klitz, is on EMI's board.

"When the recent scandal erupted, we discussed that this is an opportunity for them to come forward, but it is also an opportunity for us to set up a platform, and invite other stakeholders to discuss how the corporate world can be more responsible," said Fassoulas.

"If you read the invitation text, there is no attempt there to hide from the fact that VW did something wrong, and we are bringing them forward to discuss it with other partners."

Open dialogue

"I take the point regarding opting for a partnership with VW," said Fassoulas, when told that there is a difference between inviting VW as a guest speaker and having the company co-organise the event.

"The important thing here is having the subject raised, not so much the fact that they are 'partners' instead of just featuring a speaker. It was a good way to encourage them to come forward and be part of this open dialogue."

He noted that he did not know if VW would have showed up as a speaker if it had not been co-organiser.

In 2016, VW lobbyist and EMI board member Klitz spoke at an event in Brussels on lobbying transparency organised by the European Ombudsman.

Also that year, consumer organisation Beuc - whose director-general criticised EMI - held an event on Dieselgate which included a panel discussion with another representative of VW.

No VW cash

In both cases, VW speakers accepted the invitation to appear as guests, without the company being a co-organiser.

Fassoulas emphasised that VW has not paid for the event. The venue was offered for free by the permanent representation of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia, a stone's throw from the European Parliament.

The European Movement International was founded almost seven decades ago, and consists of pro-European organisations in 39 countries. Its current president is centre-right MEP Eva Maydell.

It has received an annual sum of €350,000 in EU structural funding since 2014 - from 2008 until 2013 the annual EU contribution to the EMI's budget was €430,000.

This article initially stated that MEP Jo Leinen was president of European Movement International. However, Leinen left that position last November 2017 and has been succeeded by Eva Maydell. This was corrected on Tuesday 13 February at 10:34.

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