Morning Briefing VW’s Headline Machine

Dieselgate has engulfed VW’s works council, its top executives and supervisory board in an endless stream of negative press and publicity: Wolfgang Schäuble anticipates an €8.3 billion federal government deficit next year.

Thanks to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who closed Germany’s books with a €6.2 billion surplus last year, government ministers are planning a shopping spree in 2018 at taxpayer’s expense. There’s just one problem: Schäuble’s beancounters are already anticipating an €8.3 billion federal government deficit next year. If he wants to save Germany’s hallowed balanced budget – and his own reputation as austerity czar – he’ll have to play spoiler. For him, the word of the moment is “nein.’’

There is no end to the turmoil at VW. A fragile labor truce reached after tedious negotiations between the automaker’s works council and VW-brand manager Herbert Diess may crumble and a rebellion is brewing. The highly politicized corporate kingdom of VW is built like the German government, only in miniature. In Wolfsburg, a “grand coalition’’ leads the automaker, with a social democratic labor wing that rebels like clockwork from time to time. The leader of the automotive “SPD’’ is Bernd Osterloh, VW’s top labor representative and a member of VW’s supervisory board. When Osterloh talks cars, he means power.

Then there’s Ferdinand Piëch, the deposed VW patriarch and still-major shareholder who is fanning the flames in VW’s boardroom. Not only has Piëch implicated his protégé-turned-nemesis Martin Winterkorn in the Dieselgate scandal, now he’s reportedly pointing the finger at supervisory board member Stephan Weil, the premier of the state of Lower Saxony, which holds 20 percent in VW. Piëch claims both ex-CEO Winterkorn and Weil knew about the illegal software much earlier than they acknowledged. “Friendly fire” can also be deadly.

But it's time to have a second look at what's going on in Wolfsburg, where Volkswagen’s headquarters are located. Instead of finger-pointing, maybe we should bow to the top executives and supervisory board members. They are not only producing cars at a high rate, but headlines too. Cheating, lies and FBI investigations - that's the way it works. And they really know how to use a multichannel distribution network to reach out to a multimillion global audience via Facebook, Twitter and CNN. Their media exposure would make Lady Gaga envious. To cut a long story short: I think the company deserves to win the Pulitzer Prize 2016 for producing the “Scoops of the Year.’’ Touché!

Twitter, the word on everyone’s lips these days, presents its fourth-quarter figures today. But while the short-message service is a must-have for communication pros and politicians, it’s bleeding money. Twitter posted a huge loss last year, and its user numbers have stagnated. CEO Jack Dorsey has been forced to ax jobs. If there’s one person who has no complaints when it comes to Twitter, it’s Donald Trump.

Speaking of Trump: The German defense minister heads to Washington this week, the second cabinet member after Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to visit the new seat of American power. Ursula von der Leyen will meet with her U.S. counterpart James Mattis on Friday to discuss issues of war and peace. After their talk, hopefully we’ll learn which country the Trump administration plans to alienate next after Mexico, Australia, Iran and China. And whether behind all of the provocations there’s a real plan, or just pique.

Even without help from our politicians, wealth is redistributed every three minutes in Germany. It’s not members of the Left or Green parties, but criminal gangs who are ravaging our assets. Every three minutes there’s a break-in somewhere. Our investigative team took a deep-dive look into the workings of a single Albanian burglary team that took 57 watches, 128 pairs of earrings, 237 rings, 170 necklaces, 21 cameras, 25 computers and 12 cellphones in 81 break-ins. If the chancellor has a few minutes of spare time, she should click through our compelling multimedia special for a just-the-facts take on a burning campaign issue.

Image of the Day

The 1964 Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery as James Bond in the films “Goldfingerˮ and “Thunderballˮ is displayed at the Paris Retromobile fair.