Uniper is going to be nationalised. The German government will take over 99% of shares from the Finnish company Fortum. This will cost about €8 billion — not to mention previous bailouts which tried to prevent the company’s collapse. Uniper, which delivers about 40% of natural gas in Germany, has been in crisis since Russia stopped delivering its supply. Nonetheless, there will be a Gasumlage starting on October 1 — this extra “contribution” by consumers guaranteeing the profits of energy companies.
If Vonovia or Deutsche Wohnen were to collapse, then of course the German state would nationalise them
This is an interesting example of how the “free market” works: when a company is in crisis, the state can nationalise it within a few days. I haven’t heard any neoliberal ideologues screaming about this being “unconstitutional” or a step towards a “planned economy.” There seems to be a strong consensus that you have to bail out an energy company that would have gone bankrupt months ago without aid from taxpayers.
When Uniper and other privatized energy companies were making profits, that money got whisked away to the Cayman Islands or even less transparent jurisdictions. Plenty of German energy companies are making record profits right now. But the public doesn’t get to touch those billions — we only take over the red ink, not the black. The motto is: “Privatise profits, nationalise losses…”
And that brings us to Berlin politics… One year ago, on September 24, 59.1% of eligible voters said Ja to the plan to expropriate big landlords. Hundreds of thousands of apartments belonging to companies like Deutsche Wohnen, Vonovia, Adler Group, etc. should be socialised. With energy costs going through the roof and Berliners faced with cold, hunger and eviction, this is more necessary than ever.
For the last year, however, the Berlin Senate (SPD-Greens-Linke) has decided to ignore this democratic mandate. Instead, they have installed an “expert commission” to ponder the question of whether the people can in fact be listened to.
Our rents should go towards the maintenance and building of new housing
Though their meetings are in secret, the majority of these “experts” are lobbyists of reality speculators. We already know the conclusion they will reach: that it’s against the constitution to nationalise big companies. Now if you consult the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and note that Article 15 clearly allows for socialisation, well, that just means you’re not an expert.
Nationalising a bankrupt company like Uniper is self-evident — but nationalising a profitable one would be a sin against the laws of god and of man. As the band Incredible Herrengedeckt sings in their Bankers’ Choir:
“Shared profit is only half profit,
so profit is not shared.
But shared loss is only half loss —
We’ll share it until nothing is left with us.”
The experts have another argument: nationalising housing would be too expensive, they say, because Berlin would need to buy out the housing companies at market value. Again, if you verify that nothing in the constitution or relevant case law prevents compensation well below market value, that’s your lack of expertise.
This thing called “market value” deserves a second look. It’s a common misunderstanding to think of Deutsche Wohnen and Co. as housing companies. In reality, renting out apartments is a fairly small part of their business. They regularly pay out larger dividends to shareholders than their total revenue from rents. Where does this money come from? Every year, these behemoths simply declare that the value of their properties has grown by several billion euros. On the basis of such “growth,” they take out loans, buy up more properties, and on and on…
Until, as the recent turbulence at Adler Group shows, these funds can collapse like a house of cards. With rising interest rates disrupting the speculative business model, Vonovia — the biggest German landlord with over half a million units — has lost almost half of its stock price in the last year. Writing in ak, the activist Kalle Kunkel has tried to analyze just how precarious this model is.
German energy companies are making record profits right now. But the public doesn’t get to touch those billions
Here’s a funny thing to think about: If Vonovia or Deutsche Wohnen were to collapse, then of course the German state would nationalise them, in a matter of days, just as soon as the investors could abscond with the last bits of liquidity. But as long as these companies remain profitable, then private property is holy.
If you think of an apartment primarily as a place to live, it might be disturbing to think of your home’s “value” going up and down by 30% or more within a month. This is why housing should be a public good. Our rents should go towards the maintenance and building of new housing — not towards financing new speculative bubbles.
This Saturday, the campaign Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen will be holding a big Expropriation Celebration on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. They want to keep up pressure on the Senate to implement the will of 59% of voters. The location is no coincidence — the festival will take place right in front of the headquarters of DIE LINKE. That party campaigned in favor of expropriation — but then formed a government with SPD and Greens on the basis of this fraud of an “experts’ commission.”
This winter, we’ll need to nationalise all the energy companies — not just the unprofitable ones — if we want to stay warm. Similarly, we need to nationalise all the big landlords to provide housing for all.
Nathaniel Flakin’s anticapitalist guide book Revolutionary Berlin is available now from Pluto Press. 304 pages, €18.99 / £14.99.