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HomeDeutschlandControversy Surrounding Volker Wissing: Hydrogen Scandal Involving Ampel-Minister - He Faces Explanation...

Controversy Surrounding Volker Wissing: Hydrogen Scandal Involving Ampel-Minister – He Faces Explanation Dilemma

The CEO of the German Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (DWV) is alleged to have secured millions of euros in funding for hydrogen projects through a close associate after a joint vacation. Wissing denied any connection, but newly uncovered documents cast doubt on his statement.

In 2021, the then Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer (CSU), came under criticism for alleged nepotism. This was related to hydrogen projects in transport that received around 1.5 million euros in public funding. In late July 2021, Handelsblatt, Spiegel, Lobbycontrol, and other media outlets reported suspicions of favoritism.

Prior to this, Klaus Bonhoff, head of the “Principle” department at the Ministry of Transport, had gone on vacation with his friend Werner Diwald, CEO of the German Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (DWV). Shortly thereafter, a funding application submitted by Diwald for 1.5 million euros was approved. Despite the investigation by State Secretary Stefan Schnorr, who stated in late August that there was “definitely no evidence of a connection” between the vacation and the funding, new documents obtained by Spiegel and Lobbycontrol suggest that the department head was significantly more involved in the funding approval process than previously known.

Observers Call for “Clear Consequences” from Wissing

As reported by Spiegel, on December 8, 2021, former Transport Minister Scheuer delivered his farewell speech in the ministry’s grand atrium before Wissing took over. At that time, Bonhoff was allowed to retain his position, and Diwald’s funding application remained unaffected by the transition. On the evening of December 16, the head of the department, in an email to Bonhoff, announced that the funding had been approved. Prior to this, Diwald had persistently pushed for a swift processing of the application in several confidential and friendly emails. The Ministry of Transport had already admitted that Bonhoff had “verbally supported” the application before forwarding it to the departmental level.

Timo Lange of LobbyControl commented on the new information: “The new documents show that the Ministry of Transport’s previous account of the situation can no longer be maintained. This further reinforces the impression of hydrogen favoritism in the Ministry of Transport. Minister Volker Wissing must now draw clear consequences.”

“This is not only problematic for department head Bonhoff, but also for the Ministry of Transport,” Lange continued. “The ministry was aware of Bonhoff’s friendships and private vacations with representatives of the hydrogen association, yet apparently did not take any precautions to address potential conflicts of interest. In addition, the ministry has only released information in a piecemeal manner – including the now-revealed sensitive email exchange. It gives the impression that the newly surfaced email exchange was either deliberately withheld or that the handling of the investigation was sloppy. Both reflect poorly on the ministry’s management of conflicts of interest and integrity issues.”

Ministry of Transport Sees No Reason to Act: “Extremely Questionable Attitude”

The Ministry of Transport now needs to explain why the sensitive emails, which were once again reported by Spiegel, have only now come to light and how it is possible that a months-long internal review concluded that there were no objections, demanded LobbyControl. The fact that the ministry still maintains that everything was conducted correctly reveals an “extremely questionable attitude.”

According to LobbyControl, Bonhoff’s superiors, specifically the Federal Minister of Transport, are also responsible. The entire case shows, according to LobbyControl, that it is not sufficient for ministries to solely verify compliance with regulations themselves. Wissing must now demonstrate that integrity is taken seriously in his department and that the case will be thoroughly investigated.

By Tobias Stahl

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