“There was no offer to wait for the ECJ ruling”

The toll investigation committee met in Berlin, the eagerly awaited appearance by Andreas Scheuer was delayed. Managers of the originally planned toll operators are putting the transport minister under pressure; his then state secretary contradicts the allegations.

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) arrives on July 24, 2019 before the special meeting of the Transport Committee in the Bundestag about the failed car toll and presents files with draft contracts for the car toll.

SThe very first witness shook the defense strategy of Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU). Volker Schneble, managing director of the joint venture Autoticket, confirmed on Thursday in the committee of inquiry into the car toll that the operators had offered to wait for the judgment of the European Court of Justice in a conversation with Scheuer on November 29, 2018. According to his remarks, the CSU politician could have had more time for his toll decision – if he had wanted to. The project would have been suspended. The aim of the offer was to give the minister time to “organize the financial framework”.

The boss of the toll shareholder Eventim, Klaus Peter Schulenberg, confirmed that he had made such an offer. His consortium partner Georg Kapsch, also present at the meeting, confirmed these statements – and they are politically explosive. In September 2019, Scheuer replied to questions from MPs in the Bundestag that such an offer was not the subject of the conversation. The opposition accuses the CSU politician of having lied to parliament. On the other hand, she accuses the minister of having concluded the contracts without necessity before there was legal certainty.

Schuleberg reported that Scheuer said to him on November 29th: “Schulenberg, you have to do something for Germany.” A reduction in the price by a third would not be possible without reducing the risks. That is why there was an offer to postpone the signing until after the judgment. Scheuer replied that this was out of the question, as several reports confirmed that the car toll was compliant with European law. When reducing the offer price, the margin was “pushed to the limit”. At the only meeting with Scheuer on the day after the ECJ ruling in June 2019, Schulenberg said that the operators had found Scheuer’s reason for termination of the “poor performance” to be unheard of. Scheuer’s remark that he could report “one way or another” to the transport committee, that is, present it with different degrees of severity, was understood as a threat. “That was an unfriendly act.” Scheuer was also under great pressure in this situation.

Companies are demanding damages of 560 million euros

In the evening, the minister received support from his then State Secretary Gerhard Schulz. Against the specific information from Schulenberg and Kapsch, he assured the committee members: “No, there was no such offer to await the ECJ ruling. We didn’t need any time either, we needed an economical offer that was eligible for a surcharge. ”Until June 18, 2019, the ministry was certain that the toll would come. Schulz is now managing director of the state truck toll company Toll Collect. In the course of the interrogation, Schulz also said that he could not rule out the possibility that the word “ECJ judgment” was uttered in the 45-minute conversation.

Scheuer is accused of having violated European, budgetary and public procurement law by signing the contracts, thereby placing the taxpayer with a liability risk of half a billion euros. The European Court of Justice had declared the car toll initiated by Scheuer, despite pending proceedings, to be unlawful in June 2019 because the construction – with a simultaneous tax relief only for German drivers – discriminated against foreigners. Scheuer had terminated the contracts immediately afterwards – with the additional argument that the operators had done a bad job in the past few months. The car toll should be collected from October 1, 2020.

In contrast, the witness Schneble reported that the project “went well to the end”. Until the contract was terminated, the project lights were “consistently green”. The termination by the federal government was spontaneous and politically motivated. “That was a short-circuit reaction.” In addition to the judgment, the ministry had named a lack of performance and problems in cooperation for the termination. The reasons for the termination are important for ongoing arbitration proceedings between the Autoticket shareholders and the federal government.

The companies are demanding damages of 560 million euros. The federal government strictly rejects this and points out that in the event of termination for several reasons, the company would not be entitled to any contractual claims. Schneble called the termination “a clear foul game”. The minister was responsible for ending the project. From the operator’s point of view, implementation of the toll would have been legally possible even after the ECJ ruling.

The eagerly awaited appearance of the minister in front of the committee was delayed several times on Thursday evening because the heads of the toll operators Kapsch and CTS Eventim, Georg Kapsch and Klaus Peter Schulenberg, were questioned in front of Schulz, not least in order to confront the minister with their statements can. It is mainly about several “secret meetings” between the toll operators on the one hand and Scheuer and Schulz on the other. Contrary to customary practice, the ministry does not have any minutes of these meetings. The ministry defends this with the argument that these were not negotiations within the framework of the formal award procedure, but pure information or clarification talks.