Central and Eastern Europe will be the focus of Berlin Water’s international activities
Berlin Water is preparing an international strategy that will be presented to its investors. Emphasis will be placed on securing contracts within Central and Eastern European countries that are in accelerated accession talks with the EU.
” We urgently want to improve and speed up this process of forming a wider European community. This is in our social and economic interest. And we want to assist these countries with our experience,” Dieter Ernst, Berlin Water’s director of international affairs told edie. “We feel we are natural partners for companies in these countries – Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. These are the main ones.
“We have a knowledge about these markets, because the former German Democrat Republic capital had its main economic and political relations with these countries. And we still have those people here. We have people who know the languages, the mentality, the structures,” argues Ernst.
Berlin Water also sees itself as well positioned to assist pre-accession Central and Eastern European countries because the company – and the city in which it is based – has so recently undertaken its own mammoth transformation. “We are the only company, and Berlin is the only city, where we have undergone the process of unification. In 1990 there were two different social and political systems and suddenly, from one day to another, we were one united city again. This was a very heavy job to shoulder and I think we did it without much noise, no tension and very effectively – in the city and in this company, too,” says Ernst. On a company level, “there was WAB from East Berlin and the BWB from West Berlin and we had to merge both parts and we did an excellent job. This transformation knowledge is unique and is exactly what [Central and Eastern European countries] need.”
Of course, one of Berlin Water’s investors, Vivendi, is also keen to snap up contracts in the region. “It is not impossible to imagine that we will compete against one of our investors on a project,” says Ernst. “That’s the way business is done now. You also see Lyonnaise and Vivendi competing heavily on one hand and then in another place they form a consortium.”
Although Berlin Water’s international activities will focus on Central and Eastern Europe, Ernst believes there will remain a place for work in farther-flung locations. Currently, Berlin Water has a contract in Xian, China and one in Latin America. “We have a Chinese operation and there have been a couple of more requests coming out of the good experience we have had there,” says Ernst. “Besides this, the federal government is interested in improving German activities in the international water business. There are a couple of possible activities in China and East Asia and we are definitely interested – interested in combining our activities with the interests of the government.”
Ernst is aware that as a nation Germany has been slow to export its water expertise, in large part because the country’s water industry is heavily fragmented. “A couple of companies are starting international operations but it is a problem – we have beautiful know-how, technical expertise and we have the universities, but the operating competence is where Germany is still behind. We have it in the country, but these 7,000 small companies are not capable of an international marketing campaign,” concedes Ernst, who would like to see Berlin Water – which serves 3.5 million residents in Berlin with water and wastewater treatment – reverse that trend and succeed on an international scale.