The fine that VW had to pay to Lower Saxony is now being distributed by Minister President Stephan Weil in his own state. Schleswig-Holstein would have liked some of it.
It works out for Lower Saxony: VW pays a billion to the state Photo: dpa
Stephan Weil is sitting on the podium in the state press conference room in Lower Saxony’s state parliament. He has his arms folded across his chest, an implied smile on his face.
Things are going well for the SPD Minister President of Lower Saxony. The one billion euros that Volkswagen has to pay to the state of Lower Saxony as a fine for the emissions manipulations has already been deposited in the account of the Ministry of Justice. Now Weil is talking about what he wants to do with the unexpected windfall.
There are enough construction sites in the state, as well as petitioners. Weil is now giving a little thought to many of them. The state plans to invest 350 million euros in digitization, 150 million euros in the ailing university hospitals in Hannover and Gottingen, and 200 million euros in the state’s other hospitals. 100 million euros each remain for municipal sports facilities, the repayment of old debts and measures for better air in the cities.
Weil says that it has not been forgotten for what reason the money ended up in the state coffers. "As a state government, we have the very clear goal of avoiding driving bans." That’s why the municipalities should be supported "in a very sustainable way."
The public prosecutor’s office has imposed a fine of one billion euros on VW AG for breaching supervisory duties in the emissions manipulations.
It is still unclearto what extent VW will be allowed to deduct the payment from tax. This could result in around 150 million euros less in corporate income tax for the federal and state governments and 140 million euros less in trade taxes for local authorities.
Stephan Weil spoke only of "possibly minor cuts." Stefan Wenzel (Greens) criticized that the state itself only has a part of the tax losses: "The party is paid by others."
Finance Minister Reinhold Hilbers (CDU) is also convinced by the plan. "It’s a smart mix of investing in the future and paying off old debts," he says.
250 kilometers to the north, Schleswig-Holstein’s finance minister has been closely following what Lower Saxony wants to spend the VW fine on. And Monika Heinold is not amused. A few days ago, she had demanded that the billion be divided up. "Decency would dictate that the money be made available to all those affected nationwide," she told the Lubecker Nachrichten. "Lower Saxony doesn’t know what to do with the billion, while the municipalities are laboriously gathering the money to implement clean air plans."
Now Heinold is following up with the site: "Lower Saxony has obviously missed the signs of the times," says the Schleswig-Holstein finance minister. "With the program it has presented, the Lower Saxony state government is making it clear that it cares zero about the damage done nationwide."
Lower Saxony is wasting a unique opportunity to invest the money in a climate protection program that would have benefited the other federal states as well, she said. Heinold is thinking of ecological investments in modern transport systems or electromobility. "There would have been many opportunities to use the money to improve air quality nationwide."
Lower Saxony does not want to share
The state of Lower Saxony had refused to share the money with other states. Legally, this is correct, as fines remain in the state that collects them.
But there is also a lot of criticism in Lower Saxony itself about how the fines are being used. "The state is swimming in money, but is now making the biggest mistakes," says Christian Grascha of the FDP. Like the Taxpayers’ Association, the group had argued that the money should be used exclusively for debt reduction.
Lower Saxony currently has more than 61 billion euros in debt. The state will now pay off 100 million euros each via the VW fine and the budget. However, this is not enough for the FDP. The sum, too small in their eyes, shows "how little this state government cares about future generations," says Grascha.
Nabu is angry
Weil, however, points to the "hidden national debt." For decades, there had been a renovation backlog in Lower Saxony – "the strongest examples are the university hospitals in Lower Saxony," the Minister President said. Today, he said, it was necessary for both hospitals to be renovated at a cost of billions.
The Greens and the nature conservation association Nabu had argued that the money should go entirely to nature conservation and the promotion of alternative, low-emission mobility concepts, respectively.
Nabu’s state chairman Holger Buschmann was now quite angry about the actual plans: "Nature and the environment are losers in this exhaust gas scandal!" The damage to the environment had been done. Now it must be repaired, he said. "With which means, apart from the billion paid by VW, does the state government now plan to eliminate it?" asks Buschmann.
The Greens in the Lower Saxony state parliament also consider 100 million euros to be far too little as an investment in clean air. The sum is "no more than a climate policy fig leaf," says parliamentary group leader Anja Piel. "This will neither prevent driving bans nor pay off the real climate debt."