The World’s Biggest Carmaker Is Getting Into Politics

(Bloomberg) -- Volkswagen AG made an impassioned foray into politics by vowing to mobilize its workforce to vote in upcoming European Parliament elections and calling for the bloc’s residents to “put an end to separatist movements.”

VW is “a European company through and through,” Gunnar Kilian, the German automaker’s personnel chief who overseas about 480,000 employees across the European Union, said in a speech in Brussels late Monday. With the elections looming at the end of May, Kilian said the world’s biggest carmaker will “formulate a clear call for votes in the election because our democracy needs every vote.”

“The European Union is a guarantee of peace, freedom, prosperity and open trade,” Kilian told an audience of diplomats, civil servants and EU lawmakers. “The united Europe is our future.”

EU parliament elections -- which take place every five years and represent one of the world’s biggest democratic exercises -- have rarely attracted much attention. But the continent-wide vote that takes place over four days starting May 23 is shaping up to be a referendum on the 60-year European experiment.

The ballot will be the first EU election since the U.K. decided to leave the bloc and will feature clashes over fundamental values and policies. There is a real possibility that anti-EU parties, with Italy’s Matteo Salvini in the vanguard, will win enough seats to disrupt legislative business. French President Emmanuel Macron has called the contest a choice for or against Europe.

Volkswagen is a powerful economic force in Germany and across Europe. Kilian referenced VW’s brands from seven European countries and its 71 production sites across the region. While the executive didn’t specifically mention Brexit, the carmaker is exposed to the U.K.’s departure from the EU through its Crewe, England-based Bentley marque.

“We have to make the EU attractive once again for member states, and above all for the people who live and work here,” Kilian said. “They need to experience an enriching, progressive, and joyous Europe for themselves and in their everyday lives.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.