BERLIN (Reuters) - German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt rejected suggestions on Tuesday that he is too closely tied to the country's car industry ahead of a national summit to discuss ways to cut pollution from diesel vehicles.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have come under fire from consumer and environmental groups as well as opposition lawmakers for their close links to carmakers, especially since Volkswagen <VOWG_p.DE> admitted to cheating emissions tests in 2015. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-volkswagen-emissions-germany-politics-idUSKCN0RQ0BU20150926)
"I am no crony of the auto industry," Dobrindt told ZDF television in an interview, adding that there was a "partnership" between business, politics and society.
Political leaders and car industry executives will meet in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss ways to reduce inner-city pollution in an attempt to avert bans of diesel cars that are worrying millions of drivers.
Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, called on Tuesday for a shake-up of the KBA, Germany's vehicle certification authority, after reports it has played down emissions transgressions.
"I am calling for a divided control of certification and emissions testing on the streets. That should be done by two different authorities," Hendricks told the Nordwest-Zeitung newspaper.
Dobrindt rejected that idea and also defended the KBA, which is controlled by his ministry, saying the fact that 2.5 million VW cars had been recalled over its emissions scandal showed he was serious about tackling the problem.
He repeated that he is opposed to plans like those announced by Britain and France to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Germany's environmental Greens are calling for a ban even earlier - from 2030.
"I can't understand these simplistic messages," he said, adding that politicians should not decide on technology of the future, but that should it should be up to business to be innovative.
Carmakers and politicians were caught off guard last week by a regional court ruling that backed bans of diesel cars in Stuttgart, undermining their previous lobbying efforts to influence emissions rules being crafted in Berlin and Brussels.
The sense of crisis deepened when German magazine Der Spiegel reported that VW, Daimler, BMW, Audi and Porsche colluded for decades on prices, technologies and the choice of suppliers to the detriment of foreign rivals.
(Reporting by Gernot Heller, writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Susan Fenton)