POLITICAL OVERVIEW: Government and car producers hold diesel summit, Merkel still leading by a wider margin

Together with Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) hosted a diesel summit this week. Photo Credit: Michael Lucan

Leading government politicians and major German car producers have agreed upon the introduction of new software upgrades which would reduce harmful emissions by up to 30% in more than 5 million affected diesel cars across Europe. The decision was made on the occasion of the so-called diesel summit the federal government has held in order to remind the ailing and pressured industry of its obligations. The decision had become necessary as bans on Diesel cars in many German cities are looming over the violation of tough environmental standards.

Before the agreement was reached, co-host Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt had already sent strong signals that he would be satisfied with a comparatively industry-friendly correction and thus contradicted his colleague Barbara Hendricks, who had called for more far-reaching changes. The Environment Minister made no secret of her intention to use the scandal for promoting a serious emissions cut of up to 30%. “There is still a possible gap, which must be closed“, Hendricks said and promised to carefully monitor future developments in the field. Meanwhile, industry representatives like the German Car Manufacturer’s Association (VdA) signaled a certain remorse and announced that they would learn from their mistakes. However, they preserved their tough stance on free software updates being fully sufficient and only laid out plans to align these updates with new incentives for customers to trade in particularly old and environmentally harmful vehicles.

While the diesel scandal dominates Germany’s political landscape for the moment, there are almost no election-related repercussions or ramifications on the horizon. On the contrary, Chancellor Merkel has successfully stabilised her CDU/CSU’s polling numbers at around 40% with the main rival SPD far behind at 22% and the minor parties FDP, Greens, AfD and the Left all competing in a neck-to-neck race with 8% each. These are devastating numbers for the Social Democrats’ lead candidate and former saviour Martin Schulz who was almost universally predicted to become a major obstacle for another four years of Merkel rule just a few months ago – and who is now on his way to essentially undercut Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s historically low 2009 result of 23.0%. Even worse, Mr Schulz has tried almost every tool modern-day party politics can provide, from agenda setting to strategic surprises (c.f. the SPD’s vote in favor of same-sex marriage) and personal attacks against the Chancellor and her governing style. But nothing of it has worked so far.

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