Horst Seehofer has been in the political business for decades, so appearing as a witness in a committee of inquiry does not bother him - quite the contrary.
Berlin (dpa) - The car toll was a prestige object of the CSU and a campaign hit - but then crashed in court.
The former party leader and current interior minister Horst Seehofer, however, rejected the allegation of joint responsibility for the toll debacle on Thursday. As a witness in the Bundestag's investigative committee, the 70-year-old made it clear that it was important for him that the toll was implemented politically - and not the administrative implementation.
But this is at the heart of the committee's investigation mandate, the opposition accuses Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer (CSU) of serious mistakes at the expense of taxpayers. The implementation was the responsibility of the respective transport minister, said Seehofer. However, he did not raise any accusations against scouring. Before appearing on the U-committee, Seehofer said when asked whether he had done everything right with the toll: "Absolutely."
As a witness in the committee, Seehofer countered allegations by his party friend, the former transport minister Peter Ramsauer. In mid-February, as a witness in the committee of inquiry, he emphasized the responsibility of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and Seehofer for the toll. They would have "seeing eyes" a "European law impossibility" with the car toll in the coalition agreement of 2013 negotiated.
Ramsauer had said that he had warned against the wording that no vehicle owner in Germany should be burdened more. This would be difficult under European law. He suggested that "overall" domestic vehicle owners should not be charged - there could have been winners and losers in connection with a parallel planned reduction in vehicle tax.
Seehofer said that Ramsauer had raised doubts during the coalition negotiations in 2013 - but the motive for it is still unclear for him to this day. After all, Ramsauer, as party vice president, agreed to the "Bayernplan". In this election campaign program at the time, the CSU had spoken out in favor of introducing a car toll. It should apply to travelers from abroad on German motorways; the funds should be earmarked for road construction.
That party friends register doubts is completely normal, said Seehofer. For him and Merkel it was crucial that the toll did not put an additional burden on German vehicle owners and that the project was in compliance with European law. In addition, the car toll was an important topic in the election campaign.
Seehofer said he said at the time: "I am not signing a coalition agreement without the toll." And he made a campaign promise that no German vehicle owners should be charged additionally. "I was convinced that it was possible." He was unable to go public shortly after the election and say that there must be losers in the toll after all. After all, the CSU won the absolute majority in the state election in Bavaria in 2013.
In his long political career, he had often seen that much that was controversial with the EU Commission was often resolved in negotiations, Seehofer said. He pointed out that the then Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) had received the green light from the EU Commission at the end of 2016 for a slightly changed toll model.
He had "never for a moment" doubted that this would last before the ECJ, said Seehofer. In addition, the Bundestag and Bundesrat agreed to the car toll. It was then the task of the Minister of Transport Dobrindt and later of Andreas Scheuer (CSU) to implement this.
Opposition politicians accused Seehofer of getting involved in contradictions. The Greens politician Stephan Kühn said that during the coalition negotiations in 2013 Seehofer knew very clearly how risky it would be under European law to introduce the "foreigners' toll" without any burden on the nationals. The FDP politician Christian Jung said that Seehofer had stated that he was not always well informed about the status of the car toll, is not understandable.
Above all, when it comes to car tolls, scouring is criticized. At the center of the U-Committee is the question of whether he broke European, public procurement and budget law when it comes to car tolls. The Ministry of Transport under Scheuer concluded contracts in 2018 to collect and control the toll - before there was definitive legal certainty. The European Court of Justice declared the car toll last summer as contrary to European law.
You live in a constitutional state, said Seehofer with a view to the ECJ judgment. If he were the current party leader, he would pursue plans for a car toll again - but with a stronger climate protection emphasis. And when, towards the end of his three-hour statement, committee chairman Udo Schiefner (SPD) warned MPs not to stray from questions, Seehofer said, why: "It's fun."