Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received a hefty donation from major shareholders of BMW last week. That in itself isn't unusual. The Quandt/Klatten family, which owns 46.7 percent of the Munich-based premium automaker, has traditionally been among the party's most faithful donors. On Oct. 9, the family transferred a total of €690,000 ($935,000) to the CDU, according to the parliament's administrative body which published the payment on its website. But this time, the cash injection coincided with a government decision that helps automakers like BMW.
On Monday, European Union environment ministers gave in to German demands to scrap an agreement to cap EU car emissions. Berlin had argued the limits would cost jobs and hurt Germany's car industry.
After months of forceful lobbying from Germany, the ministers from the 28 EU member states agreed to reopen a deal sealed in June. German carmakers Daimler and BMW produce heavier vehicles that consume more fuel than vehicles made by firms such as Italy's Fiat. That means they would find it harder to meet a proposed EU cap on carbon emissions of 95 grams per kilometer for all new cars from 2020, analysts say.
"It's not a fight over principles but how we bind the necessary clarity in climate protection with the required flexibility and competitiveness to protect the car industry in Europe," German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday. "I am convinced we can find such a solution. We can find it in the next weeks," he said.
Germany wants the caps to come into force from 2024 onwards, which according to Deutsche Umwelthilfe, an environmental organization, would lead to added CO2 emissions totalling 310 million metric tons.
'BMW Has Merkel in the Bag'
LobbyControl, an anti-lobby group based in Germany, criticized the donation to Merkel's party. "The biggest donations so far in the election year 2013 came less than a month after the election. It poses the question whether the Quandt/Klatten family deliberately kept its support out of the election campaign," said Christina Deckwirth, a campaigner with the organization.
Klaus Ernst, a lawmaker for the opposition Left Party, said it was "the most blatant case of purchased policymaking in a long time. BMW has Merkel in the bag. No one's done it that openly so far."
Environmentalist campaigners say Germany is throwing away the chance to make European cars more energy efficient and to cut the bloc's dependency on oil imports.
Merkel's intervention on behalf of the car industry angered some EU partners, who have watched her government lobby hard to torpedo the 95-gramm deal since June. First, Germany browbeat smaller countries like Hungary, Portugal and Slovakia into supporting its line. German car firms run factories in those countries.
Then Germany started working on the big EU nations. At the June EU summit, diplomats noticed that Merkel didn't object to Britain keeping its EU rebate intact in a dispute over a proposed new method to calculate the sum. The revised calculation would have slashed the rebate by 1.5 billion pounds (€1.8 billion) over the 2014-2020 budget period.
Berlin appeared to have offered the British government another deal: If you help us with cars, we'll make concessions on plans for a banking union, which Prime Minister David Cameron regards as an assault on the London financial center. Cameron's junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, evidently regarded this horsetrading as so immoral that they insisted Germany should get more involved in reforming EU emissions trading.
The French were even tougher negotiators. Initially, they had no problem with the new limits because they already build smaller vehicles with lower emissions than German gas-guzzling luxury limousines. But the European car industry crisis has hit France so hard that they, too, want a delay in the introduction of the new limits.
On Monday, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told reporters she was disappointed that agreement on implementing the CO2 target had been blocked. "It is not a terrific thing that we could not conclude on cars," she said. She added that a German proposal to delay full implementation of the 95-gram target for four years to 2024 was not acceptable.
With reporting by Dietmar Hawranek, Christoph Pauly and Gerald Traufetter of SPIEGEL