Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow recently met with Dorothea Haerlin in Berlin. Haerlin helped to form Berlin Wassertisch (Berlin Water Table) in 2006 to defend water as a human right and to advocate for a referendum to force the publication of the secret purchase contract between the Berlin water utility and two transnational corporations.
The recent report Here to Stay: Water Remunicipalisation as a Global Trend explains:
“In 1999, 49.9% of the shares of Berlinwasser Holding AG (BWH) – the owner of Berlin’s water operator Berliner Wasserbetriebe Anstalt öffentlichen Rechts (BWB) – were sold to a consortium including RWE and Veolia. The secretive agreement provided for the private consortium to control BWB’s management through the appointment of the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer. The contract with RWE and Veolia guaranteed that the return on equity for the private shareholders would be 8%, and this level of profitability would be guaranteed by the state of Berlin for 28 years. The contract was highly controversial as it led to severe under-investment and soaring prices, a situation that triggered a popular referendum in 2011 for the publication of the terms of the contract. The private contract was so unpopular that, in the city elections of September 2011, remunicipalisation was part of the platforms of three of the four major political parties. The contract was terminated when the state of Berlin bought back the shares owned by RWE in April 2012, and the shares owned by Veolia in September 2013. This process completed the remunicipalisation, costing taxpayers €1.3 billion to buy back the shares, which will be paid for through higher water bills over the next 30 years. This financial burden casts doubt on the sustainability of water operations despite remunicipalisation.”
In terms of additional background, The Local (Germany’s news in English) has reported, “A film well worth seeing, Water Under the Hammer shows, how the Berlin Senate deputies had prepared for the partial sale of the Berlin Water Works. Members of the business committee in the city parliament were invited to England in 1998 to get to know the blessings allegedly accompanying the privatisation of public enterprises. Using the English example, they were shown that managing directors’ salaries had tripled over 10 years, while jobs had shrunk to a third. Water rates to be paid by the consumer increased accordingly. A year later, the Berlin Water Works was in private hands.”
Haerlin commented after the remunicipalisation of the Berlin water system, “Now we must control and push forward our politicians. We must prevent them from following the long practiced profit driven logic of water management.” To do so, the Berlin Water Table has published a draft Berlin Water Charter and has called for a Berlin Water Assembly “as a participative instrument of direct democracy on the way to a democratic, transparent, ecological and social water management in Berlin.”
The Blue Planet Project stands in solidarity with Berlin Wassertisch.
Berlin water utility remunicipalization could cost $1.6 billion (June 2012 blog)
Berlin votes to demand details of the city’s water privatization deal (February 2011 blog)
Photo: Dorothea Haerlin