(Restores dropped word “last” in lede paragraph)
BERLIN, Nov 19 (Reuters) - The German government has quietly scrapped plans to look into partly privatising railway operator Deutsche Bahn after a Reuters report last week prompted a backlash from members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.
Under pressure from the Social Democrats (SPD), who have always been wary of selling off one of the country’s biggest companies, the coalition changed the wording in a report on state assets that had previously described such a step as an “option” for the future.
The revised report approved by the cabinet on Wednesday now reads: “The conditions for a partial privatisation of the transport and logistics divisions (of Deutsche Bahn) are currently not right.”
A previous version of the finance ministry document seen by Reuters said the participation of private investors in Deutsche Bahn should be investigated.
The SPD-run economy ministry insisted on a change in the wording, Deputy Finance Minister Johannes Geismann said in a letter sent to other ministries, which was seen by Reuters.
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for the conservative Merkel, told a news conference that “ambiguous wording in the draft report that could have led to the assumption of possible privatisation activity at Deutsche Bahn was replaced by clear language”.
The German government had wanted to sell a minority stake in Deutsche Bahn during Merkel’s first term, but cancelled the plan when the global financial crisis hit in 2008.
In its report on state assets, the government is laying out plans for the possible privatisation of stakes in firms such as Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Post.
Merkel’s “grand coalition” promises to balance the federal budget next year for the first time since 1969. Selling such stakes could help it do that at a time of slowing growth. It could also free up cash for public investments when Merkel is under pressure to spend more to stimulate the economy.
The government holds a 31.7 percent stake in Deutsche Telekom and a 21 percent stake in Deutsche Post. Together, the stakes could fetch about 24 billion euros, though the government could choose to sell a portion rather than all of its shares. (Reporting by Matthias Sobolewski and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Stephen Brown/Mark Heinrich)