BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Free Democrats (FDP) party has called for the state of Lower Saxony to sell its $9 billion stake in Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), seizing on the emissions scandal at the carmaker as an opportunity to burnish its pro-business credentials ahead of an election.
The state’s ownership of a fifth of VW came into the spotlight this week when Bild am Sonntag reported premier Stephan Weil had once let the company vet a speech to the region’s parliament, raising questions over his ability to act as an effective independent public shareholder.
“The state should completely privatize VW,” FDP leader Christian Lindner was quoted saying by Handelsblatt newspaper. “The VW law is an anachronism,” he added, referring to legislation governing Lower Saxony’s stake in the firm.
But with an election for a new state parliament due on Oct. 15, the FDP’s potential coalition partners distanced themselves from a proposal that appeals to the FDP’s core business vote but which is anathema to the wider voting public.
Germany’s leading carmakers are embroiled in scandal over attempts to disguise their vehicles’ emissions, fueling a perception that they enjoy an unduly close relationship with the German government and giving privatization calls more traction.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are forecast to displace Weil’s governing Social Democrats (SPD) in Lower Saxony, though either would likely need a coalition partner to govern.
Anybody wanting to repeal the VW law “is concerned not for the good of Lower Saxony but for the interests of private investors,” said SPD General Secretary Hubertus Heil, warning that privatization would lead to shuttered factories and lost jobs in Germany.
And even the CDU, traditionally the more pro-business of the two major parties, was cautious. “Anybody who wants to get rid of Lower Saxony’s stake in VW has to get past me,” said the CDU’s state-level head Bernd Althusmann.
Lower Saxony owns about 59 million shares in VW, worth more than 7.6 billion euros ($8.9 billion) as of Tuesday’s closing price, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Editing by Jason Neely and David Holmes