The Relationship Between Coal Mining, Corporate Power, and the German State

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Based on my readings over the last few weeks, I have learned that coal mining corporations hold tremendous power in the German state. The relationship between coal mining, corporate power and the German state is centred and strengthened on a mutual ambition for economic growth and political power.

Coal mining in Germany is crucial to the economy. The German Rhineland is the largest source of C02 emissions in Europe. The coal mined in Germany is lignite- also known as brown coal and is Germany’s “main domestic fuel resource”- Michel, p.5. Over ¼ of German electrical power is generated from lignite. (p.5, Michel). It is therefore an essential part of people’s lives.

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RWE have the strongest links with the government. They are Germany’s main electricity provider, and Germany’s leading utility holding company. (RWE AG annual report 2014 ESSEN). They describe their values as a business as being “low cost, environmentally sound, safe and reliable”. (RWE report P.2 2010, Essen.) To begin with, for a company to describe themselves as being “environmentally sound” < whilst using lignite is hypocritical. Three times as much carbon is produced from lignite power as from a combined cycle gas turbine plant. 

The use of lignite also contradicts the government’s aim to reduce carbon emissions by 2025, with three new power stations built in Germany between 1997-2000. To begin to understand how this standard is accepted, we must look at the relationship between the large mining corporations and state officials. (p.5, Michel).

Vattenfall AB, a Swedish owned company (ref 7), place heavy emphasis on sustainability on their website. They state that they have “high emphasis on environmental management on all levels of the company”. (Vattenfall, accessed 08/11). This statement should then consider their branch in the German state as well. All of this considered, it is difficult to understand why the German state have not yet found an alternative and more eco friendly power source. What is it that gives these mining corporations such a strong say?

There are multiple links between government officials and members of mining boards. Their common interest seems to be economic and political gain. At present, two of RWE’S board members hold seats in the German Parliament. 32 German municipalities, 20 cities, 7 associations and multiple different firms are shareholders in RWE. (Brock). We see another example of coalitions between RWE and the German State in 2004. Two German politicians resigned from office after information spread that they had been given money from RWE, of about 60,000-81,000 euro annually. (telepolis, 2004, Brock). The bonds between RWE and the State run deeply and historically.

RWE are viewed as a “good corporate citizen”- (Brock, intro) by the German state, despite the many harms they caused, such as the displacement of people and mass environmental destruction. The money generated by RWE and other massive corporations, is no doubt pivotal to the prosperity of the German economy. That, combined with private payments and bribery with the intention of “securing loyalty of public officials” (Michel,p.73) , makes the hope of an environmentally progressive German state unlikely.

The relationship between the government and the state becomes more questionable as RWE’S actions were met with uproar by the public. In April 2012, forest defenders began to occupy the Hambach forest. The Hambach mine is home to the “largest lignite deposit in Europe”. P.13, 3.1. This mine has an estimated 55 billion tonnes of lignite. In November of the same year, over the course of four days, these protestors were forcefully removed by the German police. This was known to be the “most expensive eviction” (Brock) ever by the German police force. Instead of siding with the German public, the state had chosen to partner with RWE.

When it comes to dealing with these acts of counterinsurgency, we see the concept of “hard” and “soft” tactics- (Kristian Williams.) “Hard tactics” refers to political violence, such as resistance from the police force or military. Hard tactics were the ones used by the police on the protestors in Hambach in 2012. “Soft” tactics are investments which benefit societies and communities. These tactics are used to paint corporations facing negative backlash in a positive light. For example, free Tupperware is given to children in schools in the Rhineland. 

There is an emphasis on environmental “education” and money is given to neoliberal and social development, such as museums and cycling paths and to local councils. (Brock). Vattenfall used ‘soft’ tactics and created a cultural forum at the Geisendorf Estate, located by the Welzov south mine. They turned this 17th Century manor into a venue for “social and cultural identity of the people in the mining district”- Michel, p.73. Protestors of mining and deforestation are considered “incorrigible adversaries of the local work force” and are shunned. (Michel, p.74).

The use of ‘soft’ tactics creates an image of goodwill. It misleads and misinforms people. It is corruption to the core. It is a system that benefits the coal miner, the corporate powerhouse, and officials of the German state. It neglects the families that are forced to relocate, and the environment whos suffering they prosper from. RWE are at the forefront of an industry that threaten to irreparably damage our environment. They have secured their power through bribery and mass manipulation of the German population. The only way to see an end to this corruption would be through drastic political and social change.

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