Colonialist

ZAGREB/ATHENS/BONN | | kroatiengriechenland

ZAGREB/ATHENS/BONN (Own report) - The Deutsche Telekom's expansion is being met with heavy protests in several south European countries. Fearing mass layoffs, wage cuts and deteriorating standards in working conditions, employees of the Greek Telecom OTE are resisting the takeover of their enterprise by the German company. In March, Croatian trade-unionists had already staged a demonstration in front of Telekom's headquarters in Bonn - because of the decrease in real-income and degenerating structural conditions at Hrvatski Telekom. The Croatian enterprise has been under the control of Deutsche Telekom for years. Berlin is hoping to profit from Croatia's imminent entry into the EU by attaining shares through the privatization of previously state owned Croatian companies. German President Horst Koehler will participate in a German-Croatian economic forum in Zagreb on Tuesday. After their protest in Bonn went unheard, Hrvatski Telekom employees characterized the parent company's methods as "colonialist".

Supplement

An agreement on the purchase of shares in the Greek Hellenic Telecom OTE is pending between the Greek government and the Deutsche Telekom. The Deutsche Telekom will initially acquire 20 percent of the OTE shares totaling 2.5 billion Euros. It is aiming to take control over the Greek company through subsequent increases. This is of strategic importance for the German company because OTE is not only the largest telecommunications company in Greece, it also owns Telekom companies in Rumania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. The Greek enterprise would therefore perfectly supplement the holdings of the Deutsche Telekom in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The German company currently has subsidiaries in Eastern-Central Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary) as well as two coastal nations of former Yugoslavia (Croatia and Montenegro). As announced in Athens, the agreement could grant both the Deutsche Telekom and the Greek government 25 percent plus one share, while ceding management to the German company.[1]

A Piece of Greece

Up to one week ago, Deutsche Telekom's efforts to enter into purchase agreements were met with heavy protests. Greek trade-unionists warned against price increases, declining standards in working conditions and mass layoffs - especially since Telekom had announced in Germany, that it would suppress numerous jobs.[2] "OTE is a piece of Greece and is not for sale," the OME-OTE trade-union warned.[3] Fierce strikes just ended a few days ago. The fact that a German enterprise is purchasing OTE, is provoking particular discontent in Athens. "The people of Greece have paid a great sacrifice in their liberation struggle and contributed decisively to the defeat of Nazi fascism in World War II," a former resistance fighter recalled: "It is unacceptable that Greece should invite the Germans to occupy Greece."[4]

Worsened

The fears of the Greeks on strike are being confirmed through the experiences being made by the employees of Hrvatski Telekom. Just a few weeks ago, on March 7, approx. 60 representatives of the Croatian RSRH trade-union demonstrated in front of the Deutsche Telekom headquarters in Bonn. The German telecommunications company purchased 35 percent of the Hrvatski Telekom shares In 1999. In October 2001 it increased its holdings to a 51 percent majority and currently owns more than 60 percent. The Croatian trade-unionists are protesting the constant worsening of working and social conditions at the Deutsche Telekom's Croatian subsidiary.

No Talks

In fact, since the German company became the main shareholder of Hrvatski Telekom, consumer service charges and prices for conventional network telephones were drastically augmented.[5] According to a speaker of the trade-union delegation, while 200 employees at the managerial level have a monthly salary of up to 45.000 Euros, for 90 percent of the employees, there has been a 30 percent loss of real-income since 2002. More than 5.000 have been laid off and the workers have nothing to show for the high profits made last year by the owners. The Deutsche Telekom administration refused to receive the delegation of the Croatian trade-union for talks and the delegation members felt treated as if they were colonial employees.

Siemens Buys Croatia

The Deutsche Telekom is currently the largest German investor in Croatia. Germany is Croatia's second most important trading partner - just behind Italy and it is second in direct foreign investments (with 20 percent just behind Austria). German companies hold not only large shares in telecommunications but also in the energy sector, the banks [6], the chemical industry and the media. Germany's grab for the Croatian energy market began immediately after the break-up of Yugoslavia, initiated in December 1991 by the Bonn government. Under the headline "Siemens buys Croatia", Südost-Dialog (South East Dialogue) Magazine reported at the end of 1992, that the German company was planning to buy up three billion US dollars worth of Croatian debt certificates [7] to trade them off for profitable Croatian plants, particularly in the energy sector. The Croatian Siemens board chairman noted in reference to these plans that "energy makes up 45 percent of the Croatian gross national product. Energy is Croatia's vis vitalis. Siemens can be expected to have a maximum engagement in this domain." By March 1994, Croatia's state debt to Siemens had already reached five billion Deutschmark.

At a Lower Level

Still the German foreign ministry is complaining that the privatization, of the large number of state owned enterprises in Croatia, is advancing too slowly. During negotiations in mid March, the Croatian government was given the prospect of being able to join the EU in late 2009. The main condition: Croatia must make comprehensive privatization. The focus is on Croatia's six shipyards. All six (five of which running on a deficit) are still receiving state subventions - not so much because they are a symbol of national industrial competence, but mainly because they are large-scale employers, safeguarding workers (12.000 last year) from unemployment. The privatization of the first shipyards is already in preparation and mass layoffs can be expected. According to the EU Commission, Croatian shipbuilding will take place "at a lower level" in the future. "No six shipyards" will survive.[8]

[1] Athen kurz vor Einigung mit Deutscher Telekom - Streiks eingestellt; Financial Times Deutschland 09.04.2008
[2] see also Spenden für die Konkurrenz and Tauschgeschäft
[3] Telekom: Griechen gegen "Enthellenisierung"; Handelsblatt 25.03.2008
[4] In Hellas unerwünscht; junge Welt 28.03.2008
[5] Prosvjed radnika T-HT-a u Bonnu, Vjesnik, 7.März 2008
[6] see also Umschwung
[7] Siemens kauft Kroatien; Süd-Ost-Dialog, Nr.12/1992
[8] Hannes Hofbauer: EU-Osterweiterung. Historische Basis - ökonomische Triebkräfte - soziale Folgen, Wien 2007 (Promedia)