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Are the German Greens receiving funds from Volkswagen?

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CheckNews, France

8 April 2019, Updated: 17 April 2019

Are the German Greens receiving funds from  Volkswagen?

According to its own documents Volkswagen paid € 54 000 to the German Greens between 2014 and 2017, mainly in the form of adverts in the party’s publications. The European liberal party ALDE was under fire for the same reasons in March.

During the French TV show “Emission Politique” on 4 April, the French Green candidate Yannick Jadot was criticizing a “Europe of multinationals” and the presence of lobbyists in Europe’s institutions when he was attacked by Nathalie Loiseau, head of the government-backed Renaissance list. Emmanuel Macron’s former minister asked (at 1:24:25): “And so, Mr Jadot, will you ask your German Green allies to stop their financing from Volkswagen?”

Yannick Jadot began an explanation, noting that in Germany “political parties are allowed to be funded by business, something I personally find regrettable”. To which Nathalie Loiseau responded, “You will admit that for Greens to be financed by diesel is a little strange”.

Nathalie Loiseau’s attack did not come out of the blue. In early March there was a quarrel over financing of political parties by multinationals. Marine Le Pen had pointed to the fact that big businesses, including Bayer Monsanto, “finance ALDE [Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe], Emmanuel Macron’s party in the European Parliament”. CheckNews looked into this allegation and noted that the ALDE party (and not the European Parliament group) benefited from funding in the form of sponsorship (namely, the buying of rights to exhibition stands at its congresses) from multinationals such as Bayer, Google and Microsoft. The response of the governing party La République en Marche was to point out that it was not a member of ALDE and to claim that “none of our MEPs in the forthcoming European Parliament will sit as part of a political group which tolerates such funding”. Eventually, on 12 March, ALDE announced that “following debate in France and abroad, [it had decided] to put an end to all financing by business”.

“Volkswagen has financed several parties for many years.”

In Germany big business can make donations to political parties. This is known as Parteispende. On its site the Bundestag maintains a list, updated monthly, of names of donors having given more than € 50 000. Consulting this list, we can see that in May 2018 the governing parties CDU and SPD each received € 100 000 from the carmaker Daimler.

However, there are no donations from Volkswagen to the German Greens. There are, nonetheless, payments by Südwestmetall, the employers’ association of the metallurgy and electronics industry in Bade-Wurtemberg.

In reality, Volkswagen appears never to have been a donor to any party in the Bundestag’s lists. But this does not mean that German parties receive no money from the Dieselgate-embroiled company. On its page devoted to the German carmaker, the German lobby watchdog Lobbypedia notes that “Volkswagen has financed several parties for many years. Like BMW, Volkswagen has moved from making donations [Parteispende] to sponsorship [Parteisponsoring]. This has tax benefits for the group, and also means that its name is no longer published in party reports, since there is no legal obligation to disclosure sponsorship”.

Lobbypedia defines sponsorship as “a form of fundraising for political parties. All the parties represented in the Bundestag are supported by businesses and associations. In return, the sponsors generally have opportunities for self-promotion, and sometimes for making personal contacts with decision-makers”. It is the same form of funding that was criticized in the case of ALDE.

Two forms of sponsorship: support for events and advertising spending

Using Volkswagen’s annual reports, Lobbypedia notes that “between 2014 and 2017 Volkswagen spent a total of € 656 260 on sponsoring political parties”, including € 54 000 for the Greens. CheckNews was able to verify these sums, published in the German company’s reports entitled “Principle and guidelines for political lobbying”. In the reports Volkswagen distinguishes between two forms of sponsorship: support for political parties’ events, and advertising spending for party-affiliated publications. Each year from 2014 to 2017 Volkswagen gave € 12 500 to the German Greens in the form of adverts in their magazines, and in 2015 it gave € 4000 to finance its events. But the latest Volkswagen report, for 2018, indicates that the company only provided sponsorship funding to the parties CDU, SPD and FDP.

In terms of amounts, from 2014 to 2017 Volkswagen paid € 288 300 to the conservative CDU/CSU, € 250 960 to the liberal FDP, and € 63 000 to the social-democrat SPD.

A green party spokesperson told Checknews that this financing came from advertising in the magazine Schrägstrich and from an exhibition space Volkswagen rented for an economic conference the party held in June 2015 in Frankfurt. "Following the emissions scandal, the Green party federal association decided to no longer accept advertisement from Volkswagen, and to no longer rent exhibition space."

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