VW scandal growing
While Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday, the German government has now come under pressure to explain itself in the scandal over rigged emissions tests. It has allegedly known since the autumn of 2014 that the emissions were higher in normal conditions. Some commentators turn a critical eye on German politics and decry the ties with industry. Others explain the scandal saying that the battle for customers is making companies unscrupulous.
The German system of complicity
One cause for the scandal at Volkswagen is the close ties between business and politics so typical of Germany, the liberal daily Il Sole 24 Ore believes: "There is one thing that Mrs Merkel did not say - and will presumably not say because it has been omitted from debate in Germany until now: at the core of the scandal, and at the same time at the heart of the system, is an interdependence between politics and business which undermines the reliability and respectability of German industry and society. The role of the government [of Lower Saxony] and the unions [as major shareholder and members of the supervisory board] in the (inadequate) controls of Volkswagen - and of the country's industry in general - is so extensive that it must be assumed that the German system can easily slide from joint administration to tacit compromises and complicity. The Volkswagen scandal is the most striking example, and the misdeeds of the public banking sector are the worst."
What constitutes a mistake for the Germans?
One aspect is missing in the German debate about the VW scandal, the centre-left weekly magazine L'Obs comments: "The only subject that our German colleagues have not addressed is morals. ... How can the country of Angela Merkel, which has never stopped rapping the knuckles of the horrible Greeks, those 'cheaters', 'liars', and 'cookers of books', maintain the pressure when Greece is forced to ask for the inevitable fourth bailout package or a debt write-off? This is not a form of 'Schadenfreude', or malicious joy at others' misfortune, but a real question: What exactly do the Germans understand by the word 'mistake'?"
Companies unscrupulous in battle for customers
Consumers should ask themselves what role they play in scandals like the one at VW, writes the liberal daily De Standaard: "Scandals over tax fraud, child labour, design faults, the side-effects of medications all come and go without much change. Apologies are murmured, a company boss resigns, share prices take a hit, but soon everything goes back to the way it was before. … Even worse than a company that damages public health, pollutes the environment or violates basic social rights is one whose products are no longer cool. It is then that the customers, fixated on status, know no mercy. … It's no wonder companies are prepared to take major risks in the never-ending battle for the customers' favour. Because they are judged far more by their ability to please their customers than by their behaviour towards society."
US more serious about consumer protection
In view of the fact that the VW scandal began with investigations in the US, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asks why it's always US authorities that uncover fraud especially at German firms: "Siemens' slush funds, Deutsche Bank's swindles on pretty much every market in the world, Volkswagen's huge fraud and even the scandal over Qatar's winning bid to host the World Cup would never have come to light or been prosecuted without investigators from the US. How does this fit in with the distorted image the opponents of a free trade agreement with the United States have, according to which German consumers are to be poisoned with American chlorinated chicken? In actual fact the whole idea of consumer protection comes from America. And the US certainly takes it more seriously than we do."