BERLIN (Reuters) - A U.S. lawsuit against Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) has sparked concern among German politicians that a multi-billion-dollar fine could endanger jobs at the country’s biggest carmaker.
The U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday it has sued VW for allegedly violating environmental laws by installing devices to cheat emissions tests in several 2.0 liter diesel vehicle models.
While any fine is likely to be well short of the theoretical maximum of $48 billion, the claim has shone the spotlight back on the German company’s problems just as Volkswagen (VW) had hoped it was starting to make progress in tackling the scandal.
“Of course the news from the United States is worrying to those who are concerned about securing jobs in the German automotive industry,” said Hubertus Heil, deputy head of the Social Democrats (SPD) in the German lower house of parliament. The SPD is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition.
Heil said he still hoped “dramatic consequences” could be avoided by clearing up the scandal swiftly and comprehensively. He added VW’s workers should not be made to bear the responsibility for the misconduct of those who carried out the emissions test cheating.
Germany has largely rallied around VW since the scandal was uncovered by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a bid to try to limit the damage to a company that employs some 270,000 people in Germany.
Michael Fuchs, deputy parliamentary leader for Merkel’s conservatives, said the hard line taken by U.S. authorities could bolster U.S. automakers at the expense of German rivals.
But Kerstin Andreae, deputy head of the opposition Green Party in parliament, which has criticized the coalition government’s handling of the scandal, said the U.S. government’s actions were to be expected.
“It’s in nobody’s interests that VW is crushed by this - but there can’t be a legal vacuum for companies, even if they are firms which are of great significance to the economy like VW,” she told Reuters, adding she also feared an impact on jobs.
In contrast to a crackdown in the United States against VW, German politicians and regulators have handled the company with kid gloves, critics say.
German regulators have rubber-stamped an inexpensive and simple fix for the majority of the 8.5 million affected vehicles sold in Europe and VW’s top executives have not faced interrogation from lawmakers in Germany.
(This story corrects the maximum penalty from $90 billion to $48 billion in the first bullet point and third paragraph)
Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Mark Potter