Top vs. flop: BER & Bahn – A proposal for disaster prevention


With a delay of nine years, the Berlin airport opens BER. In order to prevent a repetition of this, politicians must define new public governance standards – and in doing so, orient themselves to Lufthansa.

We can hardly believe it, but on Saturday it should actually happen: The first planes are landing at Berlin-Brandenburg Airport – a mere 14 years after construction began and almost nine years later than planned. The relief is already palpable in the capital. So let’s forget about it and look ahead?

Better not. Because forgive and forget would be the perfect breeding ground for the next disaster. Instead, it is high time to learn the right lessons – in Berlin and Brandenburg, but also beyond. Because then the opening of the airport could also usher in an era of intelligent industrial and infrastructure policy.

Crucial to this is the recognition that the problems of BER start right at the top: in the supervisory board. From the very beginning, politicians and state secretaries have dominated the board, above all Mayor Michael Müller (SPD) and his successor as chairman of the supervisory board, Rainer Bretschneider. It was only late that experienced managers such as the long-time 50 Hertz boss Boris Schucht joined the board.

Professionals instead of politicians: Good industrial policy needs good supervisory boards

But the professionals are an almost deplorable minority – be it at BER, the railways or elsewhere. We are convinced that the reverse is true: the result is a shoe. In the supervisory boards of public companies, professional supervisory board members must finally set the tone (especially in view of the energy and transport turnaround).

The new “Public Governance Code” of the German Association of Cities and Towns is therefore a bitter disappointment. It recommends as a minimum only “an external and independent member”. With all due respect: this is obviously the lowest common denominator and the legitimation of a personnel policy that focuses on fig leaves instead of real change

Similar to the situation for listed companies, we therefore also need a #FutureGoodGovernance initiative for public companies. Like the Wirecard scandal, the BER disaster could also become a catalyst for important reforms.

For this to happen, however, the German government would have to take a pioneering role – and appoint independent experts to the Railway Supervisory Board, for example (instead of continuing to rely on four state secretaries and three parliamentarians). The Lufthansa case shows that this does not hurt: two professionals were nominated there. Why does this only work if the federal government has to show consideration for other shareholders?