Remo Klinger: ‘Car is for Germans what guns are for Americans: untouchable’
You could call Remo Klinger ‘the father of the German diesel ban’. As an attorney he started pursuing German authorities for the German action group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) in 2005. We interviewed him on his ‘mission’.
“At that time this NGO was fighting law suits with the car industry. I said them to stop, change strategy and sue the authorities/cities. If cities don’t allow diesel cars anymore, car manufacturers will soon change their sales strategy.”
In 2005 Europe installed limited values for fine particles. It’s on these rulings that Klinger ‘s complaints are based. In 2008 he obtained an important decision of the European Court of Justice: every citizen has the right to ask authorities for a plan of action to maintain the air quality under these limits. Two years later he changed to another ‘enemy’: nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
“At least 60 German cities have concentrations of NO2 above the European limits, 40 of them even dramatically, caused by diesel engines.”
Remo Klinger started his career as an assistant of the famous German environmental lawyer, Reiner Geulen. They sued authorities about the expansion of airports but defended also military personnel who got ill from radiation or workers who were victims of a heavy fire in their Asian factory. In February 2018 the High Court in Leipzig followed him in his claim to ban diesels from cities.
“First we thought that the federal government would start action when we issued claims against cities, but they didn’t. So we argued that cities had to act themselves and we were followed by the highest courts.”
In a way Klinger is politically influencing decisions and admits doing this.
“In Leipzig we let the court choose between the democratic right of the federal government to do nothing, and the constitutional right of every citizen to protect his health. That’s indeed a political choice.”
“You would think that dieselgate would have changed things, but that’s not the case. Car manufacturers behaved like criminals and are not punished for it. In that sense authorities are accessory to fraud.”
The German car industry employs 790.000 people and has a turnover of over 400 billion euro, aren’t they too big to fail?
“Of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to pay fines if they did wrong. For 1.500 euro per car polluting diesels can be transformed in much cleaner ones. Car manufacturers have to pay for this transition because of their earlier committed ‘sins’.”
Your claims have a domino effect throughout Europe. For many Germans you seem to become the number one public enemy…
“Cars for Germans are what small weapons are for Americans. If you ask questions about them, the resistance is huge. I know I’m under constant surveillance of some authorities.”
“I’m proud of the reaction my actions provoked throughout the world. I collaborate intensely with Client Earth, a lawyer collective that sues governments and other authorities all over Europe with the same claims.”
Does this mean the diesel era is ending?
“No, it’s the beginning of the really clean diesel, it’s an economical opportunity for the car sector. But in the end we will go for electrification and another type of mobility. Maybe somewhere in the future we will look back and say that this has been a turning point.”
In the future there will be even more law actions against cities. What drives you, is this personal?
“I think it’s justice for all. The government and all other authorities have to obey their own laws and protect their citizens. If nothing moves, we will continue, even claiming jail sentences for politicians.”
Isn’t that a little provocative?
“Of course, but it sets the contours of this kind of power play between justice and politics. I think it’s good and, I admit, even enjoyable to shoo them a little bit…”