If Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer attracts attention, it is with failed projects. The opposition demands his resignation, including his support for the Union crumbles. Should he go soon?
These days, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer himself picks up the phone to defend himself on the radio: last Tuesday, shortly after noon, Bavarian Radio was discussing whether Scheuer was still the right person for his job. Among other things, because he recently made a serious mistake in the reform of the highway code. Suddenly, the moderator declares, puzzled, that “Andreas Scheuer is now online”.
Indeed, Scheuer calls and Scheuer is angry. Yes, there was a “formal error” in the rules of the road, he explains briefly.
Photo series with 11 images
Then the Minister of Transport takes a breath and addresses the moderator: “If I may allow myself that, it would be good if you also reported the beautiful, good and innovative things that we do in the ministry.” The moderator replied that the various scandals would overshadow this. Was he really worried about his job? Scheuer says you have to see “the big picture”, that he has launched several “projects” with the expansion of fiber optics and mobile phone masts – with Markus Söder, you see “things are moving forward “.
Söder: “You have to work”
It is important for Andreas Scheuer that things move forward. The Minister of Transport is under extreme pressure, he urgently needs success – so far the missteps in particular have multiplied. The amendment to the highway code, which actually provided for tougher penalties for speeding violations and which Scheuer had to take back due to an error in law, is just one of the latest incidents.
Even his own party leader, Markus Söder, only defended the CSU man with great hesitation: “It is very, very boring, and needs to be fixed,” Söder told ZDF. An open rebuke.
There’s a lot to clear up: Aside from the new mess, the masks that Scheuer ordered during the Corona crisis were inferior, digital expansion in Germany is still progressing slowly, the cellular network has holes. Not only do the Greens accuse him of doing far too little for traffic recovery and climate protection. All of this creates the image of a minister who has more talent for failure than for success. His support in the coalition is waning. This summer, the number of faults has increased so much that bets are already made in the Union on the duration of the holding of the Minister of Transport.
The project that could trigger his end as minister
After Söder’s criticism, Scheuer’s next unsuccessful attempt became known this week: a Europe-wide toll. The Environment Ministry brutally rejected the proposal, nothing had been agreed with the coalition partner SPD. Wickedness soon followed. Ironically, Scheuer, of all things, another toll push.
The number of cars that has failed dramatically across Germany is its biggest scandal. This is the project that could soon trigger his end as Minister of Transport. The record earned him a commission of inquiry, the Bundestag’s toughest instrument to dissect the actions of prominent politicians. In the fall, it will ultimately be uncomfortable for Scheuer.
The idea of a toll is old: it is a project that the head of the CSU at the time, Horst Seehofer, imagined. It was during the 2013 election campaign – it should be a workhorse. After the election Alexander Dobrindt von Seehofer was appointed Minister of Transport. He should advance the prestige project.
Scheuer inherited the prestige project
In the years that followed, Dobrindt campaigned vehemently for the record, against any opposition from the coalition partner. The CSU concern, which was presented as the “foreign toll”, should finally be introduced. But then, shortly before the balance sheet, Dobrindt was elected chairman of the CSU regional group. Scheuer became Minister of Transport, inherited the project – and later failed with an accident.
The desire to finally complete the project after years of planning is probably one of the reasons for the debacle. At the end of 2018, Scheuer signed the contracts with the companies that were to set up the toll system in Germany: Kapsch TrafficCom and CTS Eventim. Scheuer did not want to wait for the European Court of Justice to examine the legality of the project. The devastating verdict came six months later, in June 2019: as the toll should only be charged to foreigners, it is incompatible with EU law. The “foreign record” was irrelevant, Scheuer was embarrassed.
The party leader and his stumbling minister: Markus Söder speaks to Andreas Scheuer in front of a group of journalists. (Source package: imago images)
According to the ministry, the project has cost taxpayers more than 72 million euros to date. The significantly higher bill could still follow. Because after the verdict, Scheuer announced the toll operators, who have since claimed 560 million euros in damages from the federal government. The dispute is still ongoing.
The files containing the details of the toll debacle now fill over a million sheets of paper. Udo Schiefner, a calm and thoughtful Social Democrat, is the master of stewards. He chairs the commission of inquiry on the toll. Since the start of the year, the Bundestag has been working there on crucial issues, “objectively and conscientiously”, as Schiefner emphasizes. It’s about being right and right. Has European law been violated? Have public contracts and the finance law been broken? And above all: Did Andreas Scheuer lie to the German parliament?
Schiefner says: “A crucial point is: did the toll operators Kapsch and Eventim propose to the minister to sign the contract only after the judgment of the ECJ?” This possibility is in the bedroom. The toll debacle probably would not have turned out to be a debacle.
“A man who shoots particularly quickly from the hip”
The opposition is already very critical. “You can’t think of anything positive with Andreas Scheuer,” Green Party Deputy Leader Oliver Krischer said in an interview with t-online.de. “As Minister of Transport, he is a total failure. He is doing nothing for urgently needed traffic recovery and climate protection.” It is a scandal that Scheuer is still in office: “He should have resigned a long time ago”.
Oliver Luksic, spokesperson for transport policy of the FDP, tells t-online.de: “Scheuer is a man who likes to shoot particularly fast from the hip. As a Federal Minister you should not allow yourself to ‘do so. ” If it turns out that Scheuer “lied to the public and to parliament about the content of the secret discussions with the toll operators, Söder must replace him.”
Left-wing boss Bernd Riexinger told t-online.de that the award of the toll contracts “should have cost Mr Scheuer his office at least”. And adds: “As long as the toll issue is not fully resolved, Mr. Scheuer no longer belongs to the head of a ministry.”
Problems multiply, according to SPD
Even in the parties in power, Scheuer is going through a difficult period. Many CDUs are shaking their heads, the tone is gradually getting sharper. Scheuer is only defended with caution. CDU member Klaus-Peter Willsch, who sits on the board of the powerful “Mittelstand parliamentary group”, told t-online.de: “The commission of inquiry into the issuance of the toll will now do its job – and Scheuer can hopefully allay suspicion. “Real confidence seems different.
Several colleagues from the grand coalition blaspheme behind closed doors: the Minister of Transport has become a burden. Scheuer is not a team player, someone says, although the minister still claims otherwise. The great appearance is more important to him than the detailed work. “Andreas Scheuer does not have the happiest years as a minister,” says an SPD member. “The problems are increasing.”
The coalition partner bitterly over its latest advances and misadventures. With the failure of the traffic law reform, Scheuer is torpedoing the goal of reducing the number of road fatalities, SPD traffic manager Kirsten Lühmann tells t-online.de. “It seems to me that Scheuer wants to use the EU toll to distract from other issues.” Udo Schiefner, politician of the SPD, says: “The future of Andreas Scheuer depends on the further findings of the investigation committee.”
What is the party leader doing?
October 1, 2020 could be a fateful day for Andreas Scheuer. The members of the Toll Commission of Inquiry will then meet around noon in the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus in the Bundestag. On the most important day yet to deal with the debacle, a marathon meeting is scheduled for committee members from the ruling coalition and the opposition.
First, the officials of the terminated toll operators Kapsch and Eventim are heard as witnesses. Then, in the evening, the minister himself will comment on the allegations against him and his house. He will have to answer uncomfortable questions until late at night. “This will be a crucial question,” says SPD transport politician Lühmann. And she adds: “Depending on the overall nature of the toll operators, this could be difficult for the minister.”
But even if the toll operators don’t, if they are careful because their € 560million dispute with the federal government is still ongoing, it could be uncomfortable for Scheuer at the end of the year. Because his party leader is called Markus Söder. And he could decide he wants to be the Union’s candidate for chancellor. In the election campaign, Söder could use a ventilation minister as well as a broken axle at full speed.