Journal article Open Access
WATERLAT-GOBACIT Working Papers (ISSN 2056-4864 - online) Vol. 4 No 2, pp. 27-40. (www.waterlat.org)
The partial privatisation of the Berlin Water Company (BWB) was completed in October 1999 when the city of Berlin entered a public-private partnership with RWE Umwelt, AG/ Vivendi (now Véolia) and S.A /Allianz. This article examines the processes through which this major shift in Berlin politics occurred, detailing the privatization process and the years before 1999 in which the political consensus on public ownership ruptured in the wake of neoliberal policy and logics of urban governance. General dynamics apparent in the BWB case – commercialization, privatization, lack of transparency and limited opposition – should be understood within the broader socio-economic restructuring of Berlin in the 1990s. Narratives of inevitability (‘there is no alternative’), the necessity of change in the city on re-entry to the global economy spread to management of urban public services. The partial privatisation was justified largely in relation to the need to raise funds to address mounting city debts and bring in the private sector expertise deemed necessary to make BWB a global player in expanding water markets. It is shown that earlier rounds of neoliberal policy change in the city at large (e.g. speculative real estate development) and BWB in particular (e.g. commercialisation) contributed to the problems faced by both at the end of the 1990s. Further, the formal democratic process through which privatisation was implemented is revealed to have been seriously undermined by secret bilateral negotiations with the private investors.