Sigmar Gabriel, who served as Angela Merkel’s vice-chancellor from 2013 to 2017, as well as holding the posts of foreign minister and economics minister, is reportedly the favourite to become the new boss of Germany’s automobile association, the country’s most powerful lobby.
According to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Gabriel could become the next president of the German Automobile Association (VDA) when current president Bernhard Mattes vacates the post at the end of the year. Accepting the post would be an about-face for Gabriel, who previously told Bild that “one should not knock on doors, that one has sat behind oneself.”
The newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that Gabriel “is the preferred candidate of the auto companies, the suppliers and the family businesses.”
Gabriel knows the industry, having sat on the board of Volkswagen during his time as state premier of Lower Saxony, which owns about 20% stake in VW.
Germany’s automotive industry is currently facing several challenges, from the forced shift to electric vehicles to comply with the tougher new EU CO2 emissions regulation, and a cooling global car market, and tariffs. Volkswagen and its German competitors continue to feel the fallout from the diesel emissions cheating scandal.
In September, German state prosecutors brought charges against Volkswagen’s chairman and its chief executive for allegedly manipulating markets by not informing shareholders in good time that the diesel scandal was about to break. Also last month, luxury carmaker Daimler was fined €870m (£752m, $965m) by a Stuttgart court in connection with “dieselgate”.
Lobby Control Germany said today that Gabriel should not be moving straight from politics into the automotive industry, tweeting: “During his time as a top politician, Sigmar Gabriel already stood out as an advocate for the car industry. It is a bad signal for democracy if he now wants to become an automotive lobbyist. We need longer cooling off periods in the revolving door between politics and business.”
Critics have often pointed out that the car industry holds excessive sway with the government, not least because of its economic importance as a key exporter and employer providing some 800,000 jobs in the country.
Traditionally, there has been a well-oiled revolving door between the automotive industry and politics. Former federal transport minister Matthias Wissmann was the president of the VDA from 2007 until 2018. Eckart von Klaeden was state secretary in the chancellery, and one of Merkel’s inner circle before moving to a job as head of external relations for Daimler. Thomas Steg was deputy government spokesman for seven years, before becoming chief lobbyist for Volkswagen. Merkel’s former campaign manager Joachim Koschnicke was Opel’s vice-president for Public Policy & Industry Strategy from 2013-2017.
Gabriel, currently still a member of the Bundestag for the constituency of Salzgitter-Wolfenbüttel, had previously announced he would give up his parliamentary mandate on 1 November.