PRIVATIZERS STOPPED IN FREIBURG, GERMANY

By Gerhard Hanloser

[This article published in: Junge Welt, 11/14/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.jungewelt.de/2006/11-14/040.php?print=1.]


On Sunday 11/13/2006, a plebiscite prevented the privatization of communal housing in the planned sale of the Freiburg city center. 70.5 percent voted to keep the 7900 apartments in city ownership for the next three years. At 39.9 percent, the election participation was higher than expected.

The Greens and the CDU (centrist party in Germany) urged a purchase. However the arguments of the sales advocates around the Green mayor Dieter Salomon obviously did not convince their own clientele. On the eve of the plebiscite, the camp of the privatizers crumbled and at the end eroded completely. Thus CDU councilperson Heinrich Schwar said he could not support the policy of his party: “When confronted with complaints about removal, the importance of one’s own dwelling was clear. When a person is in distress, our social market economy in Germany turns into a brutal capitalist economy. One has no choice. Therefore I am strictly opposed to the sale of city housing – even for Christian motives.”

The pro-sale votes were not in the majority in any of the different parts of town. The Green Party argument that the budget could be permanently stabilized with the projected sales revenue of 510 million Euros was not accepted. The mayor still seemed stubborn at a press conference. He had no “Plan B.” “Hard times are coming to Freiburg, the Green politician said. The centrist CDU party seconded the pessimism. “Now everyone must make a sacrifice,” the head of the Christian Democrats, Martina Feierling-Rombach, announced. According to Salomon’s assessment, refusing the housing purchase would drive Freiburg into deeper indebtedness. More debts will probably have to be contracted, the mayor speculated. The city council currently calculates a debt of 390 million Euros for the city construction.

The citizen initiative “Housing is a Human Right” that triggered the plebiscite reacted enthusiastically to the vote. “The many alternative proposals must now be put on the agenda and seriously discussed by the citizenry,” we read in a declaration circulated on Monday. The different cooperative models now have a chance that would have been impossible in the normal bidding process.

The German Renters Alliance also welcomes the decision as a positive signal to politics. “Whoever wants to sell the public housing stock opposes the interests of the majority of the citizens,” director Franz-Georg Rips, said on Monday.

“The Freiburg No is the proof: people cannot be dispossessed,” Baden-Wurttemberg Bundestag delegate Ulrich Maurer (Left Party) declared. Freiburg is “a devastating defeat” for privatization advocates and an “incentive for the Left Party to devise a policy against privatization.”