• Germany edition
 
Opinion
'Put Germany's flagship projects in private hands'
Berlin's new airport has become a byword for failed public sector projects in Germany. Photo: DPA.

'Put Germany's flagship projects in private hands'

Published: 19 Nov 2013 10:40 GMT+01:00
Updated: 19 Nov 2013 10:40 GMT+01:00

Public projects such as the Stuttgart train station project, ‘Stuttgart21’, the new philharmonic hall ‘Elbphilharmonie’ in Hamburg, the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, or Berlin’s attempt to build an international aviation hub, are just the most prominent examples that illustrate Germany’s problems with budgeting and realizing public infrastructure projects. 

The odyssey of the new airport Berlin Brandenburg International (BER) is a particularly good example of why infrastructure projects are better planned, funded and realized by private investors rather than the public sector.

German aviation export Dieter Faulenbach da Costa called the construction flaws in BER so dramatic that the city should tear down the entire airport and rebuild it from scratch.

After German reunification, Berlin had three airports coping with growing passenger numbers. Political considerations meant planners spent 15 years selecting a location to bundle Berlin’s air traffic to one large airport.

Two annulled public tenders later, the mayor of Berlin and the governor of Brandenburg decided to discard the common concept of having a general contractor overseeing the construction and supervise hundreds of contractors by themselves.

That decision transferred any liability from the private sector to the taxpayer.

No end in sight

Invitations for the grand airport opening party in June 2012 had been already sent out when management had to admit that they would not meet the deadline. The fire safety authorities had not approved the airport’s smoke extraction system.

Der Spiegel reported that planners decided the terminal building would not have any smoke extraction tips on its rooftop for purely aesthetic reasons.

Smoke would be pumped into exhaust pipes located below the building - a very unique way to direct smoke, as hot air naturally rises up.

The airport management and politicians overseeing them still cannot give a precise estimate for when the airport can actually start facilitating air traffic.

The last 18 months have mainly consisted of assessing what is not working at the airport. So far more than 66,000 deficiencies have been identified.

Handelsblatt newspaper estimates the additional costs of maintaining three airports at the same time - with just two of them generating revenues - are up to €40 million a month.

This does not include costs for potential compensation vendors and airlines are suing the government for.

Rental car companies and restaurant operators had already equipped their stations and shops at the new airport, but do not generate any revenues while their assets depreciate. Airlines had already scheduled new routes and sold tickets for those.

Once BER will actually start operating it will already be at maximum capacity and extensions will be immediately necessary in order to cope with growing passenger numbers.

A lesson from the private sector

The decisions to fund, build and operate BER by the public sector neglects the success stories of the two largest German airports, Frankfurt and Munich.

While Berlin’s airport story developed into a never-ending tale of scandals and failure, Frankfurt and Munich expanded their capacities by benefiting from private capital and know-how that helped shape the future of those hubs.

Frankfurt’s publicly listed Fraport owns and operates airports around the world. Munich’s airport planned the two most recent extensions jointly with Lufthansa, which owns 40 percent of the main terminal.

But in Berlin the failures of politicians to directly oversee the construction of an airport has led to cost explosions and continuously deprives Berliners of the ability to be well-connected to the rest of the world.

So far construction costs have jumped from the initially planned €2 billion to more than €5 billion. Further increases are very likely since no-one knows when the airport will actually start catering flights to the world.

The lessons of BER and other prominent public infrastructure projects in Germany show that the liability for large infrastructure projects should lay in private hands and that excessive state spending leads to a waste of taxpayers’ money. It delays the realization of much-needed infrastructure.

Stories about the construction of bank towers or private airports being delayed for decades and costing four to ten times more than budgeted are rare. And even when they occur, shareholders, and not taxpayers are on the hook.

Frederik Roeder is an economist and director at NGO Young Voices.

READ MORE OPINION: 'Why Germany can't produce a breaking bad'

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims
Floral tributes were laid on Tuesday at the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims

A 24-metre blue glass wall in Berlin has been unveiled to commemorate the systematic murder of up to 300,000 mentally ill and disabled people under Adolf Hitler. READ  

Germany to help with Mediterranean refugees
Migrants aboard an Italian navy patrol vessel in April 2014. Photo: DPA

Germany to help with Mediterranean refugees

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Tuesday pledged support for his Italian colleague in the struggle to manage refugees trying to reach the European Union via its southern coast. READ  

Ice bucket challenge raises €500,000 in a week
Elephant Nelly takes part in the ice bucket challenge in a Lower Saxony safari park. Photo: DPA

Ice bucket challenge raises €500,000 in a week

The coffers of the German Society for Muscular Disease (DGM) are overflowing with donations thanks to the viral craze for videos of donors dousing themselves with ice-cold water. READ  

Russian-German school opens in teeth of conflict
The GRIAT will open in the Russian city of Kazan. Photo: Shutterstock

Russian-German school opens in teeth of conflict

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is pressing ahead with its German-Russian Institute of Advanced Technologies (GRIAT) against a backdrop of international tensions over Ukraine. READ  

Schweinsteiger is new Germany captain: Löw
Photo: DPA

Schweinsteiger is new Germany captain: Löw

Bastian Schweinsteiger will replace fellow Bayern Munich player Philipp Lahm as captain of the German national football team, head trainer Joachim Löw said on Tuesday. READ  

Munich minister resigns in 'model car scandal'
Christine Haderthauer at her resignation press conference in Munich on Monday. Photo: DPA

Munich minister resigns in 'model car scandal'

Christine Haderthauer, head of the Bavarian state chancery, resigned “with immediate effect” on Monday evening over the so-called “model car scandal” in which her company sold scale models built by a man convicted of three sexual murders. READ  

Russia 'severed' from Europe: President Gauck
President Gauck stands shoulder to shoulder with President Komorowski of Poland in Gdansk on Monday. Photo: DPA

Russia 'severed' from Europe: President Gauck

Russia has "effectively severed its partnership" with Europe and wants to establish a new order, German President Joachim Gauck said on Monday. READ  

National Uber ban is revenge of the taxis
Taxis are a powerful trade lobby in Germany. Photo: DPA

National Uber ban is revenge of the taxis

The Frankfurt regional court has imposed a temporary nationwide ban on chauffeur car service Uber, saying that it must pay a €250,000 fine if passengers continue to book rides through its app. READ  

Sex party 'desecrates' Bavarian royal spa
The facade of the Bad Reichenhall Royal Spa Hotel.

Sex party 'desecrates' Bavarian royal spa

The Bavarian finance ministry has demanded a report from the company running a publicly-owned spa in the town of Bad Reichenhall after they rented the property out for a fetish party. READ  

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs
Angela Merkel addressing the Bundestag on Monday as her ministers look on. Photo: DPA

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs

UPDATE: Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the Bundestag on Monday to explain her government's decision to send weapons to Iraqi Kurds fighting terrorist group Isis. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten of the oddest things found by German border control
Photo: Gerkan, Marg and Partners/Tegel Projekt GmbH/J. Mayer
Berlin
How will Berlin look in five years' time?
Photo: DPA
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The best of Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit in 14 pictures
Photo: DPA
Politics
Germany sends burgers and sausages to Kurds
Photo: Matthias Kock
National
Tribes, ties and a movie: A German's Afghan life
Photo: DPA
Gallery
10 things to do before summer in Germany is really over
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,412
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd