Showdown for Scheuer in the toll committee

In the toll investigation committee, the transport minister is to testify himself for the first time today. It’s about the controversial contracts with the terminated toll operators – and the tricky question: Has Scheuer lied to parliament?

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) has to testify before the toll investigation committee for the first time today.

EActually, it should be the day of triumph for Andreas Scheuer and his CSU: October 1, 2020, the official start of the car toll, punched through against all odds. But it turned out differently. And so the Minister of Transport has to put himself on a different stage this Thursday – in the Bundestag’s investigative committee, which is supposed to shed light on the procedure surrounding the burst toll. The opposition drives heavy artillery against the witness Scheuer. The focus is on the controversial contracts with the terminated toll operators – and the question: Has Scheuer lied to parliament?

The day will definitely be long – and could bring a first showdown. Before the minister’s turn, possibly in the evening, comes a squad of managers who should actually do business with the federal government: First, Volker Schneble, managing director of the joint venture Autoticket founded for the toll. Next up for their shareholders Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, head of CTS Eventim, and Georg Kapsch, head of Kapsch TrafficCom AG. Both companies were awarded the contract to collect and control the toll at the end of 2018.

This is aimed at a central accusation of the opposition – namely that the far-reaching agreements were concluded before legal certainty existed. Because the toll was already at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which stopped it as unlawful in June 2019 – as critics had repeatedly predicted. However, Scheuer does not want to comment on the procedure: “I will make it clear that it was a rule-compliant procedure that legally failed at the ECJ,” he recently told the dpa. And in general he is “concentrated and well prepared”.

Since the end of 2019, the U Committee has been trying to clarify whether there have been any omissions in the issuing of the toll and in the termination of the contracts. The opposition’s verdict is already clear: it calls for Scheuer’s resignation or dismissal and holds him against serious violations of budgetary and public procurement law at the expense of taxpayers. Costs incurred so far: 79.3 million euros. Scheuer vehemently rejects allegations. His ex-State Secretary Gerhard Schulz, who was involved with the toll, is to be questioned in front of him in the committee – he is now the head of Toll Collect. An overview:

The toll legacy and its consequences

The car toll was a prestige object of the CSU in the previous grand coalition. CSU Minister Alexander Dobrindt got over the political hurdles, his successor Scheuer inherited the practical implementation. But the tricky point of the toll model was that domestic car owners should be completely relieved in return for their toll payments through a lower vehicle tax. The ECJ did not allow this to happen because it disadvantaged motorists from abroad.

Shortly after the total write-off in court, Scheuer terminated the contracts with Kapsch and CTS Eventim, which had founded the joint company Autoticket for the toll. In addition to the judgment, the federal government also named deficiencies in the contractor’s performance as a reason – this is still controversial today. The operators are now demanding 560 million euros from the federal government, which strictly rejects this. Arbitration is in progress.

The “secret meetings”

The focus of the committee meeting should be three “secret meetings” with managers of the operating companies: in October and November 2018 and after the termination of the contracts in June 2019. On October 3, 2018, it was about the inclusion of the federal truck toll operator Toll Collect in the collection of the car toll. The opposition accuses Scheuer of wanting to hide costs and risks at Toll Collect.

At a meeting on November 29, 2018, the operators are said to have offered Scheuer to wait until the ECJ ruled before signing a contract. Scheuer rejected this, as the toll should be introduced in 2020, which is why time is pressing – according to an internal memory log of the managing director of Autoticket. In circles of the Ministry of Transport, the credibility is doubted – because the minutes were only drawn up in September 2020 and the author was not present during the conversation.

It will now be exciting to see whether the bosses of the operating companies will confirm the offer in the committee. The opposition recalled Scheuer’s statements in the Bundestag on September 25, 2019. In response to questions from MPs, he said that such an offer was “not an issue”.

Scheuer’s support

The SPD has so far held back with attacks on Scheuer. Internally, however, there is talk of a “red line”. That would be exceeded if Scheuer had demonstrably lied to parliament. In this case, Scheuer would have a credibility problem, said committee chairman Udo Schiefner (SPD) of the “Rheinische Post” (Thursday). “That would put a strain on his office, and that can become a credibility problem for the government.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) confirmed to her minister at the end of 2019 that “Andy Scheuer is doing a very good job”. Allegations are all “properly dealt with in the committee of inquiry”. However, the point of view of the CSU top is decisive for his support.

In the CSU, Scheuer’s political future is seen as divided. Across the party there is criticism of the appearance of tolls – especially with a view to the federal election in 2021. Decisive for a stay is – so it is said in the CSU – the proof that everything was legitimately taken. Should it turn out that Scheuer lied to the Bundestag, he could no longer be held. CSU boss Markus Söder had always warned against premature convictions and emphasized that the U-Committee had to be awaited first.