The so-called Deutsche Umwelthilfe is financed to a large extent from expensive warnings that it often throws into the mailbox of small car dealers. The business journalist Hans-Robert Richarz criticizes this money-making business model.
At first the focus was on particulate matter. Then it was carbon dioxide. Now the nitrogen oxide emissions of diesel cars are on. With him, four non-governmental organizations here underline their opposition to the car. For the Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), Greenpeace and the German Environmental Aid (DUH), the private car, especially the one with a diesel engine, is the number one environmental pig. Ironically, the club with the lowest membership DUH has been loudest on the timpani in terms of eco-PR for years and often uses controversial methods.
Journalists with access to the password-protected German media site of Toyota are likely to have wondered about a reply from Cologne in the past few weeks after doing their research there. "For legal reasons, we only pass on information on vehicles whose consumption has not yet been finally homologated to journalists", it said and "... ask for your understanding that we have to check journalistic activities when passing on this information" The reason for this is a letter from Deutsche Umwelthilfe, the content of which should be known to pretty much all German companies that are somehow commercially involved in the sale of cars - from small dealers to multinational corporations. It refers to the "information about the official fuel consumption and the official specific CO2 emissions of the relevant models of new passenger cars in the meaning of the Passenger Car Energy Consumption Labeling Ordinance (Pkw-EnVKV) in its currently valid version" prescribed by the EU Commission in the most beautiful bureaucratic German ".
Warnings are a lucrative source of money for DUH
This sentence has given the DUH a bubbling source of money. And this is how it works: If an advertisement, website, brochure or customer magazine talks about a particular car and there are no consumption and emission data, the DUH will do so in writing. With the help of a law firm, she accuses the addressee of violating the regulation and immediately requests a declaration of submission. It costs around 250 euros. Five full-time, permanent employees are responsible for the raid search on behalf of the DUH.
So Toyota had no choice but to announce the news of a new car, the values of which have not yet been determined, in private, so to speak. The company hopes to avoid further persecution. According to a law firm in Bremen, which frequently represents companies warned by the DUH, a contractual penalty of 7500 or 10 euros could otherwise be payable, which would have to be paid to the association in the event of an infringement - plus default interest. The contractual penalty is also to increase by 000 percent for each further violation.
Porsche, for example, had to transfer higher five-figure sums. The skirmish between the DUH and the sports car manufacturer from Zuffenhausen is now in its tenth year. "No other manufacturer bluntly violates environmental and consumer protection regulations like Porsche," says the DUH headquarters in Radolfzell. The trigger for the first legal dispute in 2007 was two articles in the Porsche magazine "Christophorus", in which the authors had failed to fully provide the required information in the captions. The Stuttgart Regional Court had ruled in the first instance that the articles in the company's own publication were not advertising. Porsche did not violate the relevant regulation.
The responsible EU directive could soon be changed
The DUH appealed against the judgment and won at the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court. As the warning process increasingly met with lack of understanding among car dealers in Germany, the Central Association of the German Motor Vehicle Industry (ZDK) started a large-scale signature campaign two years ago, the result of which was handed over to the EU Commission in December 2015. This promised to support an amendment to Directive 1999/94 / EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 13, 1999 on the provision of consumer information on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions when marketing new passenger cars. At the time, however, she pointed out that this could take three years. These three years are not yet over, so the ZDK is waiting for things that may or may not come.
Deutsche Umwelthilfe is there with its tried and tested tactics for every topic that has anything to do with environmental problems. There is hardly an environmental issue that she does not add her mustard to, with the pattern showing little ingenuity. The supposed opponents are constantly confronted with drastic accusations, there is talk of “fraud”, “sham” and “illegal machinations”. DUH managing director Jürgen Resch calls his policy of exaggerated terms “scandalization”. He had repeatedly accused Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche, for example, of being personally responsible for "deliberate bodily harm resulting in death in many thousands of cases" with the Mercedes diesel models.
The DHU manages 1.600 warning procedures per year
Criticism of verbal incursions like this is rarely found in the media. When he was furious about the noise generated by sports cars five years ago, Resch put it: "The audacity with which Porsche ghostwrites politics is only exceeded by the compliance of the Politics to give priority to the particular interests of the most climate-hostile German car manufacturer over the protection needs of its citizens against the omnipresent traffic noise 600 miles within two years.
In an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ), Resch proudly refers to around 1600 civil law warning procedures per year, of which around 1200 would end with a declaration of submission by the defendant and the rest in court. According to its own information, not even the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations has that many. In any case, expensive legal fees are to be paid by the victims. There are also 50 lawsuits against authorities and municipalities. As “income from consumer protection”, Reschs Verein disguises the funds that flow from it, which in the past financial year provided almost a third of its income. Compared to Deutsche Umwelthilfe, even a notorious litigator falls behind as a legal wallflower. "The garage door for making money is wide open," summarized the FAZ. That was not always the case.
Only when the DUH succeeded in registering itself with the Federal Office of Justice in the “list of qualified institutions under the injunction law”, which includes 2004 institutions, was it given the right to punish violations of consumer protection laws by issuing a warning. In 78, the DUH raked in 2006 euros under the term “consumer protection”, after which things went steeply uphill. A year later it was three times as much, namely 93 euros. "The strongest growth", the annual report at the time cheered, "we see in the latest project area consumer protection, which contributes seven percent to the financing of the work of the DUH".
2,5 million euros in revenue from warnings
Such numbers are a thing of the past. In 2011, a seven-digit amount with warnings was generated for the first time with 1,5 million euros, which now accounted for 20 percent of the income. In the meantime, according to the 2016 annual report, “consumer protection” income climbed to just under 2,5 million euros and was thus responsible for 31 percent of income. Ascending trend. And where do you put the money? "We spend more than half of our expenses on personnel," says the current annual report for 2016. The currently 90 employees should therefore receive a decent salary.
Because for a while it was considered image-promoting to get involved in green, there were significant donations from the automotive industry. The financial commitment of Mercedes - at that time still Daimler Chrysler - at the DUH ended in 2005 with a bang, because at that time the Daimler Chrysler boss Jürgen Schrempp had argued with the California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about his climate policy. Toyota, on the other hand, continues to pay steadily: around 80 euros a year. In return, Jürgen Resch privately drives a Prius, which his club often praises for the green clover, but that doesn't stop him from thrashing the Japanese at will.
Deutsche Umwelthilfe is increasingly assuming sovereign powers: "As a consumer protection association recognized by the Federal Office of Justice, one of the tasks of the DUH is to enforce consumer rights." prove. More than once, the DUH saw the font size of the consumption information as a rule violation. She recently issued a particularly absurd warning to a car dealer in Augsburg who had previously signed a cease and desist declaration and did not want to burn his fingers again. So he had placed an advertisement on the Internet portal www.pkw.de that was exactly in accordance with the regulations, but was amazed when a warning from the German Environmental Aid fluttered into his house a little later.
Few dishes are on the side of the car dealers
It was said that he did not provide all the necessary information at www.kalaydo.de. A new cease-and-desist declaration and a contractual penalty of 7500 euros were required. Kalaydo.de? The dealer had never placed an ad there. But what he did not know and could not know: There is an interface from pkw.de to kalaydo.de without a reference in the general terms and conditions to the two internet portals belonging together. The DUH was meanwhile.
Courts rarely react to disputes like the Hanover Regional Court under file number 21 O 44/10. The DUH demanded 5000 euros plus interest on arrears because a dealer had published the required exhaust gas and consumption values only as a footnote in an advertisement. "Stricter requirements for the mandatory information", so it said in the judgment, "would limit the possibilities of the car dealer to design his advertising in an unacceptably manner." The action of the plaintiff - that is, Deutsche Umwelthilfe - "is also abusive".
However, the DUH seems to have been blowing a sharper wind in the face ever since it messed with automotive companies on a large scale. At the beginning of April, the Frankfurt public prosecutor closed a case against Opel for alleged exhaust gas manipulation. The DUH had previously filed a criminal complaint against the Rüsselsheim residents. At the same time, Volkswagen obtained an injunction against DUH and its managing director Jürgen Resch before the Düsseldorf Regional Court. A total of ten statements on the effectiveness and legality of the software update in diesel vehicles were prohibited. In the event of an infringement, a fine of up to 250 euros or legal detention for up to six months is threatened. Is that why the DUH is currently soliciting more donations?
The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) recently described Jürgen Resch as an “environmental junkie” and his actions as a “one-man show”. At some point, however, his shots could also miss their target. The SZ reported in its story: "A plastic bag manufacturer demanded 2,7 million euros in damages from him - private." (Ampnet / hrr)