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17 Oct, 2013 11:39

Autocracy? Germany’s Merkel fights corruption accusations following massive BMW donation

Autocracy? Germany’s Merkel fights corruption accusations following massive BMW donation

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under fire for accepting a nearly 700,000-euro donation to her conservative party by owners of popular car maker BMW, so much so that the country’s president is being forced to clamp down on massive political gifts.

The pressure to do so stems from the opposition, as well as anti-corruption watchdogs like Transparency International.

The organization on Wednesday pressured German President Joachim Gauck to restrict corporate donations of such size to political parties.

The Quandt dynasty, which owns 46.7 percent of the BMW auto concern, was reported on the German parliament’s website to have made the transaction to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party in the first days of October. This was followed by a barrage of criticism from German opposition parties and NGOs, Germany’s The Local reports.

The catalyst seemed to be that, just days before the transfer, Europe’s environment ministers caved in to Berlin’s demands to cancel an agreement that would limit the country’s car emissions.

According to analysts, manufacturers Daimler and BMW produce cars that are less fuel-efficient and this poses a challenge to their meeting the proposed target on capping carbon emissions of 95 grams per km for all their new cars from the year 2020 – a plan Merkel has just thwarted for the third time – Business Spectator explains.

By comparison, EU’s more ‘green’ car makers Fiat and Peugeot are able to fulfill the requirements.

The law would have a negative impact on jobs in the industry, the Christian Democrats argued. However, this did not save Merkel from accusations of pandering to the car lobby.

Her CDU party and the Quandt family flatly deny all allegations of political favors.

"The donations are in no way connected to individual political decisions,” a party spokesman said on Tuesday.

Although the money gift came two weeks after Merkel’s emerged victorious in the parliamentary election – and therefore was not linked to her campaign – opposition parties say the timing of the donation appeared suspicious.

“This is the most blatant case of purchased policymaking in a long time… BMW's got Merkel in the bag. No one has done it that openly before,” Klaus Ernst, an MP for the left Die Linke party told the Independent of the 690,000-euro gift to the party.

Reuters / Yves Herman

To try and counter the claims that Merkel has been bought by the car industry, the chancellor’s deputy spokesman, Georg Streiter, said “of course the government is not open to being bought.” He explained that the donation was made to the government – not to the political party. He added that Germany would continue on a path to car emission figures that would satisfy the EU and environmental advocates.

But despite BMW and CDU’s denial of any political favors being made, the opposition and anti-corruption lobbyists continue on their path.

Transparency International’s Edda Muller told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday that an annual donation limit of 50,000 euro per person should be imposed to curb the influence of “particularly strong lobby interests.”

The idea was picked up by other such organizations, like LobbyControl, which agreed that 100,000 euro per year is also fine.

However, the organization did join the ranks of the accusers. Their spokeswoman, Christina Deckwirth, was suspicious that the biggest donation in Germany’s 2013 election year was made only two weeks after Merkel’s campaign.

“It raises the question whether the Quandt family deliberately kept its support out of the election campaign,” she told The Independent.

Juergen Trittin, former co-leader of the Greens, posted his reaction on Twitter, saying that the Quandt family had "bought Merkel's climate policy on October 9 for 690,000 euro”, according to the Business Spectator.

Ulrich Kelber, an environment expert with the Social Democratic Party, tweeted the view that Merkel’s CDU shamelessly accepted the money “from the profiteers of Merkel’s resistance to climate protection measures.”

Left Party co-chairman Bernd Riexinger issued harsh criticism as well, telling the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that “the timing of the donation shows [that] here not just a party has been bought, but a law.”