Word against word, continue with Scheuer

According to the will of the opposition, Transport Minister Scheuer’s career should end with a relentless questioning before the toll investigation committee. Nothing came of that. But his toll decisions remain wrong.

Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer before the committee of inquiry

DAccording to the will of the black-red coalition, October 1st, 2020 should have been a historic day. The start of the car toll in Germany was planned. It has been clear since the failure of the German toll model before the European Court of Justice in June 2019. According to the will of the opposition, October 1, 2020 should have gone down in history in a different way: The career of CSU Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer was supposed to end with a relentless questioning before the toll investigation committee. Nothing came of it either.

After the almost five-hour questioning, which lasted until 4:21 a.m. on Friday morning, Union chairman Ulrich Lange stood in front of the cameras – and in front of the prominent witnesses. “Scheuer is a minister and he remains a minister,” said Lange about his party friend. And with this forecast he should be right for the time being. The CSU chairman Markus Söder does not have to work a special shift on the German unity weekend to look for a replacement for his husband in Berlin.

Did Scheuer lie to Parliament?

Scheuer once again withstood the pressure from outside during the nightly test. This time his critics believed that they were closer than ever to their goal of forcing his resignation. Because a few days before the meeting, a written note had become known that the managing director of the prevented toll operator Autoticket had recently made from memory through a conversation between his shareholders Kapsch and CTS Eventim and Scheuer and his state secretary – a note based on three key words which he wrote down at the end of November 2018 after his bosses had informed him about the conversation. In it, the manager noted that his shareholders had offered the minister to wait until the pending ECJ ruling before signing the toll contracts – from the point of view of the toll operators, above all with the aim of expanding the financial framework for the billion-dollar business, which was insufficient for their offer. Scheuer immediately rejected this, arguing that time was rushing and reports clearly showed that the car toll was EU-compliant.

This is explosive because the ECJ belied this legal opinion – and the taxpayer is now faced with claims for damages from the disappointed toll operators of 560 million euros. And it is explosive because Scheuer had assured the Bundestag over a year ago that there had never been such an offer from the toll applicants. The committee’s inquiry came to a head on Friday: Did Scheuer lie to Parliament?

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At the meeting, the toll operators unanimously reaffirmed their memories of the offer. Scheuer revealed memory lapses. He did not want to categorically repeat that the offer had not been made. But: as far as he can remember, the offer did not exist. With the same words, only much more nervous and less eloquent, State Secretary for Transport, Gerhard Schulz Scheuer, provided support in the evening. So there is word against word: Even the opposition representatives in the committee, despite all the skepticism about the statements of the minister after the marathon meeting, did not want to derive any more calls for resignation.

In retrospect, Scheuer rated it as a mistake to have met the toll operators in a small group without taking note of the minutes – which was actually tricky in terms of public procurement law. However, Scheuer still does not want to admit the hasty signature on the toll contracts – regardless of the outstanding ECJ ruling – as a mistake. Even if the minister’s calculation is not to worsen the position of the federal government in the arbitration proceedings with the toll operators by making such concessions, it has been a mistake. Because Scheuer misjudged the European risk. That could be very expensive for taxpayers. And the minister cannot get rid of this stain. Even if the hunters with MP status were again unable to confront him immediately on Friday.