A Fraudulent Remunicipalisation in Berlin

Latest developments in the parliament of the City State of Berlin that took place last Wednesday (25th October 2012). 

The SPD / CDU coalition agreed to buy back RWE’s 24.9% share in the Berlin Water Company for EUR 654 million, even though RWE had already amortized more than the sum it paid in 1999. This high price is based on an estimate of RWE’s profit over the next 16 years until 2028. But this pales into insignificance compared to the terms of a new contract with the other private partner, Veolia, which, as far as we have been able to ascertain, is concluded for a further 30 years.

Let us take a quick look back at the past. In 1999, the same coalition (SPD / CDU) sold 49.1% of the Berlin Water Company to Veolia and RWE (Thames Water) under conditions that were regarded as partly in contravention of the German constitution by the Constitutional Court of Berlin. This triggered the establishment of a citizens’ group called Berliner Wassertisch (Berlin Water Table). In 2006, this group started to push for a referendum with the aim of forcing publication of the hitherto secret contract and thus causing it to be cancelled. In February 2011, this referendum was won by the votes of more than 666,000 citizens.

Cancellation of the contract was by far the least expensive option, and could have opened up the way to a much more democratic water management structure that is supported by Berlin’s population. But rather than following this path, the government of the City State of Berlin took the undemocratic – and very expensive route outlined above.

As far as Berlin Water Table has been able to discover to date, they intend to renegotiate the contract with Veolia for another 30 years under the same terms and conditions as before: Although Berlin will now hold 75.1% of the shares, management of the company will be handed over to Veolia once more (even though the company only has a 24.9% shareholding). Veolia will also receive a  guaranteed profit, so the imbalance between the public and private owners will continue at expense of the water consumers of Berlin.  All this will be agreed under private (commercial) law, so secrecy will once again be assured, despite the successful referendum of 2011.

All of this has very little to do with remunicipalisation even as the termes officially understood by governments, and is even further from our goal of democratic remunicipalisation based on the participation of the general public.

Berlin Water Table intends to fight this fraudulent remunicipalisation using every method of resistance available to it, including another referendum. Its first step will be to bring this fraud to the attention of all water activists, given that this Berlin model will inevitably be copied by others. We will also pass the information on to global water activists in order to bring the Berlin Government into disrepute worldwide.

Dorothea Haerlin, member of Berlin Water Table