Concerned that growing populist forces may endanger Europe's Single Market, Volkswagen Group is mobilizing the combined voting power of its half-million strong EU workforce ahead of this month's key elections to the bloc's parliament.
In an unusual move, VW wants to convince its employees over the coming days and weeks of the need to defend the centralist union against those that favor a loose trading federation of nation states.
"The coming elections will lay the course for the future of Europe," said VW Group human resources chief, Gunnar Kilian, in a statement. "Europe affects each and every one of us."
VW's management board and the group works council are calling this week on the 490,000 people scattered across seven different countries to participate in the vote. To get across the message, VW is using the automaker's employee newsletter and local communications teams. About three-quarters of VW's global workforce are in the EU.
VW aims to inform workers with facts and figures about the election. It also wants to educate them how the company is set up throughout the union and give them a concrete sense of its geographic diversity using the parts found in a VW Golf.
The company is also using social media to defend the EU as a bulwark for peace and prosperity.
"A unified, viable and internationally competitive Europe is in the fundamental interest of the Volkswagen Group," it wrote on its website, citing the Single Market in particular.
While Volkswagen is engaging with its workforce early in the process, spokespeople for Daimler, Ford and Opel told Automotive News Europe they would not actively encourage their employees to vote, nor would they endorse a political position.
BMW however is considering how to raise the subject internally as it, too, sees the project as integral to its Europe-wide production and logistics operations.
"We encourage a high turnout among our workers, this concerns the future of Europe," CEO Harald Krüger told reporters on Tuesday. "More than 40 percent of our cars are sold here, so a functioning Europe is a matter very close to our heart and we communicate to our employees its importance for our business."
The elections will be held between May 23 and 26. Initially the UK intended on exiting the EU prior to the vote, but it too will now participate.
Polls suggest there could be a surge in the amount of seats won by euroskeptic and far-right parties to the parliament in Strasbourg.
Election analysts believe the euroskeptic parties such as the UK's Brexit Party, Italy's Lega and Hungary's Fidesz could gain influence by mobilizing their anti-EU base while many centrist voters stay home.
Past elections have seen low turnouts. Each successive election has seen a declining number of citizens cast a ballot. Even small states that have benefited from the euro and are home to major automotive production sites, such as Slovakia, have seen only a very small share of the population participate.
Volkswagen is worried anti-EU parties could use the only EU institution whose members are directly appointed by the people as a stage to undermine the freedom of movement for labor, capital, goods and services. The stakes were underlined on Friday, when the VDA reported the number of passenger cars exported from Germany shrunk by 23 percent in April, blaming the sharp drop on Brexit uncertainty.
Three out of every four cars built in Germany are exported, mostly to other European countries such as the UK, Italy and France. VW Group also has major plants in countries spanning from Spain and Poland to Italy and Hungary.
"With every billion euros of export revenue, 14,000 jobs are created across the EU," VW Group wrote on its website, adding that the euro used by 19 member states saves the economy 30 billion euros in exchange fees annually. "The European single market, with its coordinated rules and standards, cross-border trade and the free movement of labor and knowledge exchange are the fundamental prerequisites of our competitiveness."
Not just economic arguments are made, however. Volkswagen points out that car owners enjoy borderless mobility thanks to reciprocally recognized EU driver licenses.