Photo: Christine und Hagen Graf / Flickr

The German car industry has been allowed to shape environmental regulations within the European Union. This exemplifies how corporations use lobbying in order to limit their liability for human rights and environmental abuses.

Photo: Christine und Hagen Graf / Flickr

A 2018 report from Alter-EU – Europe’s campaign for lobbying transparency – outlined the extent to which the German car industry had succeeded in regulatory ‘capture’ at the EU and German national levels. The report revealed patterns that “whenever German car producers have faced tougher measures from the EU, the German government has done everything it could to protect them by delaying or watering down the new rules”.[1]

Before the Dieselgate scandal, in 2010, research groups indicated to the EU that differences between emissions on the road and during tests could be explained by some sort of deception device. Civil society organisations and researchers notified the European Commissioner for Industry as well as the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA), the German authority responsible for authorising car manufacture. The director of the KBA later claimed he never suspected illegal activity, despite having been warned by civil society groups and the Commission about potential defeat devices.

Early 2015, the European Commission proposed more accurate tests for diesel cars, but Germany delayed the adoption based on a position that was similar to the one taken by the German car industry.[2] Lobbycontrol has revealed close relationships between the car industry, German regulatory authorities and the government itself, and convincingly argues that the economic weight of the industry in Germany combined with its close access to decision makers create the conditions for close alignment of positions of the car industry and the German government at the expense of public health and environmental concerns.[3]

The German car lobby has privileged access to the Ministers and MEPs to shape regulations to best fit their interests.  In the wake of the Dieselgate scandal, in July 2017 alone, Chancellor Merkel met exclusively with the car industry many times, including five times with BMW, three times with Volkswagen, twice with Daimler, once with the German car lobby association VDA, and once with Ford. In this same time period, Chancellor Merkel did not have any meetings with environmental or consumer organisations. Similarly, other ministers and secretaries met 325 times with the car industry in the period between September 2015 and May 2017, compared to 58 meetings with consumer protection groups and 21 times with environmental organisations. These patterns of exclusive and repetitive access by the German car industry points towards increased potential for undue influence and regulatory capture.

Several reports have also provided indications of regulatory capture by the car industry of sections of the European Commission.[4] From secret exchange of information between the European car manufacturers’ lobby association and Commission staff,[5] to shaping  regulation through the European Commission advisory group ‘CARS21’ (which stands for ‘Competitive Automotive Regulatory System for the 21st Century’ group) .[6] From these reports a picture emerges of a close relation between the car industry and legislators, allowing the car industry to help shape the regulatory environment to their own benefit, while putting public health interest and the environment on the back row.

[1] Nina Katzemich, “Dieselgate and the German Car Industry, Corporate Capture in Europe: When big business dominates policy-making and threatens our rights”, (Brussels: Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation in the EU, 2018), p. 91-92, (accessed November 6, 2019).

[2] LobbyControl. “Abgas-Testverfahren: Bundesregierung Blockiert Reform,” September 29, 2015. (accessed July 9, 2020).

[3] Katzemich.

[4] Corporate Europe Observatory, “Leak exposes Commission attempt to delay policing of diesel emissions”, November 7, 2016, (accessed November 6, 2019).

[5] Corporate Europe Observatory. “Leak Shows Commission Giving inside Information to Car Lobby on New Emissions Tests,” March 16, 2016. (accessed July 9, 2020).

[6] Fabian Hubner, “Driving into Disaster: How the EU’s Better Regulation agenda fuelled Dieselgate”, (Brussels: Corporate Europe Observatory, 2017), p. 2, (accessed November 6, 2019).