The recipient of funds from the railways and the donor: a critical dual role

Berlin May a state secretary of the federation in personal union head of the supervisory board of the federation-owned Deutsche Bahn AG be? As an official in the Ministry of Finance, can you oversee the budget, from which many billions of euros flow to the railways, and at the same time control the company? These questions are currently preoccupying political Berlin.

Last week it was announced that Secretary of State Werner Gatzer was to head the supervisory board of the Deutsche Bahn AG shall be. Now it is also clear: He should keep his job in the Federal Ministry of Finance. Cooperation between finance ministers Christian Lindner and State Secretary Gatzer is “trustworthy and successful,” according to the ministry.

Lindner helps Gatzer find a part-time job that is as difficult as it is powerful: the state secretary is a member of the Deutsche Bahn supervisory board, and he is to be elected chairman in October. The proposal goes back to Lindner, it said in the Ministry of Finance.

In the Ministry of Transport, on the other hand, it was said that Minister Volker Wissing had proposed Gatzer as the representative of the federal government. In any case, it is true that Wissing’s previous proposals were rejected in the traffic light coalition.

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Gatzer’s promotion once again makes the close personal ties between politics and the state-owned company clear. Traditionally, members of the Bundestag and officials from ministries belong to the supervisory board.

The Federal Audit Office has already criticized this network. “The federal government has to ensure that members of the supervisory boards of DB AG and its subsidiaries exercise their mandates free of conflicts of interest,” write the auditors in a report that they sent to the government at the end of last year. They referred to the principles of good corporate governance adopted by the Federal Cabinet. The aim is then to counteract the appearance of possible partiality.

>> Read here: Unpunctual trains, poor quality – Bahn boss Lutz promises: “It will be better in 2023”

But that is exactly what the federal government has paid too little attention to so far. The Ministry of Transport has accepted that several members of the supervisory board have double functions, which “could conflict with corporate and federal interests”. As an example, the Court of Auditors cites “competing functions at the DB AG recipient of funds and at the federal government as the donor”.

The federal government has to ensure that members of the supervisory boards of DB AG and its subsidiaries exercise their mandates free of conflicts of interest. From a letter from the Federal Court of Auditors to the government

This year alone, the draft budget, for which Gatzer is responsible in the Ministry of Finance, envisages investments of almost ten billion euros in the railways and billions in a number of railway support programs as well as another ten billion euros for regional rail transport.

However, the Court of Auditors has so far been critical of the fact that budget politicians from the Bundestag sit on the Deutsche Bahn supervisory board. After all, they make the final decision on the budget and thus on how much money the railway company gets. The criticism did not refer to Gatzer, who was already a member of the supervisory body at the time.

The auditors even welcomed the fact that there was a regulation in the Ministry of Finance: Questions about the railways were not allowed to pass through Gatzer’s desk.

No doubt about Gatzer’s competence

Now there should be further changes, mainly to reduce Gatzer’s workload. So he should give up other supervisory board mandates, for example at the capital airport BER. It is also being discussed that he will give up one of the departments under his control. In addition to the federal budget, Gatzer coordinates the IT department and the department for federal investments.

Stefan Gelbhaar, also a member of the railway supervisory board and spokesman for transport policy for the Greens in the Bundestag, is critical of the personnel regardless of conflicts of interest. It causes him a certain uneasiness that a financial expert and not a railway expert is to be appointed to the top of the supervisory board. “The railway as the heart of mobility must always be thought of and set up as a transport company,” he said.

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Finances, shareholdings and real estate should serve transport purposes, not the other way around. “A strong supervisory board, especially in the person of the chairman of the supervisory board, must assert and control exactly that again and again,” said Gelbhaar.

It is generally recognized that Gatzer, as head of the budget for 17 years now, is without a doubt an excellent expert on the figures of the federal government and its holdings. It’s not just Finance Minister Lindner who appreciates him. Chancellor too Olaf Scholz (SPD) worked closely with Gatzer as finance minister for four years. Not even the opposition doubts his competence.

After Scholz became finance minister, he brought Gatzer back as budget secretary in April 2018. He had left the ministry a few months earlier for a brief trip into the corporate world: Gatzer worked for a few weeks at the beginning of 2018 as the head of the railway subsidiary Station und Service.

More: Unpunctual trains, poor quality – Bahn boss Lutz promises: “It will be better in 2023”

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