Christiane Barth – in Brussels for municipal utilities

Christiane Barth heads the Brussels office of the Association of German Association of Local Public Utilities (VKU).

Christiane Barth actually wanted to become a journalist. She studied political science and English in Mannheim, worked for the Allgemeine Zeitung, and interned at the Süddeutsche Zeitung and ZDF. But during an internship with MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, she was gripped by enthusiasm. “Brussels is a very young, international and dynamic environment,” Barth says. “It didn’t let me go.” Others in the European Parliament studied European politics in Maastricht or Bruges. For her Master’s, she therefore chose Maastricht.

She then worked for a few months in the liaison office of the Green parliamentary group in Brussels before moving to VKU in 2017. There, Barth has had a stellar career: Five years ago, she became a desk officer in the VKU office in Brussels, and two years ago she was promoted to office manager – at just 28 years old. The Brussels fever has not let her go. “I only wanted to work here for one to two years. Now I’ve been in Brussels for six years and want to stay,” says Barth.

Unique German system

The VKU is the German association representing the interests of the municipal utility and waste disposal industry, with more than 1,500 member companies. The system of municipal utilities and water suppliers exists in this form throughout Europe only in Austria. In other EU countries, services of general interest have been privatized. That is why Barth and her four staff members in Brussels are primarily addressing the German members of parliament. “Every MEP also has a municipal company at home in their constituency,” she says. That’s why sympathy for the problems of the member companies is usually greater.

She and her team are currently concerned about the emergency measures for the energy crisis presented by the Commission in October. 15 member states have recently called for a gas price cap. It’s good that the EU Commission is very cautious about a general price cap, Barth says. “A cap could weaken the EU’s position in international competition for scarce gas. We worry that Europe will run out of gas.” That Brussels wants to buy gas together for the EU would strengthen Europe. But when it comes to implementing the measures, VKU calls for more flexibility because the German system is unique.

Well networked with other players

The Commission has now initiated one of the VKU’s demands: The aid scheme is to be amended for a limited period so that national aid can be permitted. Local municipal utilities could benefit from this. “We are currently examining whether this time-limited framework is sufficient for the Commission,” says Barth.

As a small lobby group in Brussels, Barth and her team network with others, including the umbrella organization SGI Europe, one of the social partners recognized by the Commission. “We have a very regular exchange with the municipal family, that is, with the Association of Cities and Towns, the Association of Towns and Municipalities and the Association of Counties.” And, of course, with the Association of Austrian Municipal Enterprises (VKÖ), as well as with environmental and industrial associations, depending on the topic.

Just under four times a year, the VKU office in Brussels invites everyone involved in the water industry to a “Water Breakfast”. Just under 15 to 20 people regularly take part. The VKU has a special service for member companies. They can send employees to Brussels for a week of shadowing. Tom Schmidtgen


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