German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces today a grilling by lawmakers investigating if her government shielded Volkswagen from regulators despite knowing the auto giant was carrying out emissions cheating. The parliamentary committee was launched after VW — Europe’s largest carmaker with 12 brands ranging from luxury Porsche to lower-end Skoda — admitted in September 2015 to fitting some 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide with software that temporarily reduces harmful emissions when undergoing regulatory tests. Tasked with investigating Berlin’s response to emissions excesses going back to 2007, the group of lawmakers have already heard witnesses from across the government and Volkswagen, including the car group’s former chief executive Martin Winterkorn.
Merkel has been chancellor for the entire period covered by the inquiry, which has also heard serving and former ministers including Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who previously served as economy minister, and Chancellery chief of staff Peter Altmaier.
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The hearings have yet to uncover clear evidence that Merkel or her government acted improperly. Her appearance before the emissions committee is Merkel’s second as a witness this year, coming less than a month after she deflected MPs’ questions about mass spying by Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service on behalf of the US National Security Agency.
When Merkel takes her seat as the inquiry’s final witness, MPs will come at her from a number of angles. One of the top questions is why the diesel cheating was uncovered by officials in the United States, rather than Germany’s own KBA motor vehicle authority. California’s powerful Air Resources Board (CARB) was one of the first regulators to bring the VW scandal to light, along with the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Transport minister Alexander Dobrindt — whose brief includes oversight of the KBA — told the inquiry in his own testimony that the regulator “acted faster than others” in responding to the scandal.
MPs also want to find out more about a conversation between Merkel and then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. Merkel criticised strict regulations on diesel vehicles in the most populous US state, CARB chief Mary Nichols, who was present at the meeting, told the inquiry Monday.