WHEN Federal Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee called in January for a ’constructive debate’ over the form in which Deutsche Bahn AG should be privatised, he no doubt foresaw that there would be some pretty heated discussion.

There have been no fisticuffs yet, but a clear, if predictable, separation of views has emerged. DB AG Chairman Hartmut Mehdorn is campaigning furiously to try and keep his company intact, but he is pitted against the strongly-held views of economists and politicians who believe that infrastructure and operations should be divorced.

On May 10 the Transport Committee held hearings in Berlin at which 11 leading academics and experts held forth on what should be done. The discussion centred not so much on whether DB AG should be privatised, but whether it should cross the divide into the private sector as an integrated company. The consensus clearly favoured separation, largely because this facilitated greater competition.

Not to be outdone, Mehdorn staged an event in the capital on May 16 at which the BahnBeirat, an ’independent’ advisory group of 26 academics and experts set up in 2002, gave their opinion on the way forward. DB AG should stay intact, they said, taking the opportunity to lambast what the Transport Committee had been told the previous week. They also criticised the Booz Allen Hamilton report on the sell-off (RG 2.06 p57), pointing out that the costs attributed to separation and the loss of synergies were too low. In that they were undoubtedly correct.

We note that the government has quietly moved the date for a decision on privatising DB AG from ’the summer’ to ’the autumn’. Plenty of time, then, for Mehdorn to marshal his troops, but don’t bet on him winning. Target date for a stock market listing is 2008.