Angela Merkel seeks motorists’ backing with €1bn ‘mobility fund’

Chancellor aims to reassure voters over looming diesel bans in German cities

  German chancellor Angela Merkel and  SPD candidate  Martin Schulz:  up to half of German voters are still undecided who to vote for on September 24th. Photograph: Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel and SPD candidate Martin Schulz: up to half of German voters are still undecided who to vote for on September 24th. Photograph: Reuters

 

Germany is to pump a total of €1 billion into public transport and intelligent traffic management system in a bid to avoid bans on diesel cars in cities from next year.

Hours after winning a television debate, with three weeks to election day, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the “mobility fund” plans to regain trust of motorists – and voters.

“Time is running out and we know this is a massive effort,” said Dr Merkel after hosting mayors of 30 cities facing diesel bans next year.

In full campaign mode, the German leader announced plans for €500 million of extra public funding for cities to buy cleaner buses and boost e-mobility infrastructure. It follows another €500 million – divided between the public purse and the auto industry – agreed at last month’s first diesel summit.

Dr Merkel’s hope is to win back public support among voting motorists and business owners, unsure what looming diesel bans in dozens of German cities mean for them.

Emissions manipulation

As Germany’s car industry battle emissions cheating claims, German environmental groups have gone to court in Stuttgart and other cities demanding greater effort to improve air quality.

Under particular scrutiny: the levels of noxious nitrogen oxides (NOx), at the centre of the Dieselgate scandal. EU environmental law allows only for 40 micrograms of NOx per cubic metre of air. But air quality stations in Stuttgart and Munich – home to Daimler and BMW – regularly measure NOx levels twice the legal limit. Ongoing legal uncertainty has seen older diesel cars plunge in value.

Environmental campaigners described Monday’s mobility fund – three quarters funded by the taxpayer – as a “disastrous signal”.

“Instead of obliging manufacturers to protect city dwellers from emissions of manipulated diesel cars, Dr Merkel has spared the conning car companies again,” said Mr Benjamin Stephan, mobility expert from Greenpeace Germany.

In a Sunday evening television debate, Dr Merkel said she was “furious” at widespread emissions manipulation by car companies but agreed with them in dismissing as costly and wasteful hardware retrofits on older cars.

Hardware fixes

Yet environmental and auto analysts are in rare agreement that hardware fixes are the only sure way – beyond outright bans of older diesels – to drive down pollution below EU limits.

In his first and last direct confrontation with the chancellor on Sunday evening, Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz failed to score any significant points. On diesel, he even agrees with the German leader that his priority is not air quality, but to avoid diesel bans.

“I’m more interested in [VW] Golf drivers than golf players,” he said at an election rally.

With up to half of German voters still undecided who to vote for on September 24th, Sunday evening’s television debate attracted a record 16 million viewers – half of the available audience.

But the 97-minute low-key event, flagged as the “Chancellor Duel” among political rivals, was on Monday dismissed by the media as a harmonious “duet”.

“Germany got what it deserved,” thundered the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “The country has forgotten how to argue.”