Gerhard Schröder, 73, who was leader of the country between 1998 and 2005, has criticised Mrs Merkel for going on holiday rather than chair talks on diesel car emissions aimed at trying to repair the country’s battered car industry, which is vital to the economy.
Mrs Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has come under fire recently for not doing enough to crack down on vehicle pollution after the emissions scandal as well as being too close to the country’s car producers.
The German car industry held a “diesel summit” in Berlin on August 2 but Mrs Merkel chose to remain on her three-week holiday.
At the summit politicians and carmakers agreed to overhaul the software engines used on 5.3 million diesel cars.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder has slammed Angela Merkel
The summit came almost two years since Volkswagen admitted to cheating the US diesel emissions tests.
The scandal over test rigging later spread to engulf Mercedes, Audi and Porsche.
Social Democrat Mr Schröder, who was replaced by Angela Merkel after a narrow defeat in 2005, told the Swiss newspaper Blick: “I don’t want to spoil anyone’s holiday. But here I would have taken charge personally. It is all far too important.”
Ministers have been accused of being wary of angering the country’s car manufacturers, an industry that is one of the country’s biggest exporter and provides around 747,000 jobs.
The industry accounts for around 14 per cent of Germany’s GDP and any upset in the industry could cost Mrs Merkel votes in the upcoming election.
During the summit politicians stopped short of demanding costlier mechanical modifications to engine and exhaust systems.
Mr Schröder, a former member of Volkswagen’s supervisory board, said that he would have taken a stronger line.
He said: “What I took away from the media was that one manager or another definitely behaved arrogantly (at the diesel summit).
Angela Merkel addresses the CDU faithful at the start of her campaign
Former chancellor Gerhard Schroder at a SPD conference
“I would not have put up with that. I would have thrown them out of the meeting.”
Kicking off her re-election campaign yesterday, Mrs Merkel launched a stinging attack on German auto executives, pressing them to innovate to secure jobs, and win back trust lost by the diesel emissions scandal.
She told an audience of party supporters: “Large parts of the automotive industry have lost trust on an unbelievable scale. There needs to be action.
“Where things are swept under the table, or where emissions tests are exploited to the point where they’re unrecognisable, that destroys trust.”