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Cartel suspicion – Association of municipalities calls for rapid clarification of the garbage affair

After the house searches by the Federal Competition Authority (BWB) of over 20 waste disposal companies, the President of the Association of Municipalities, Alfred Riedl, calls for a quick and complete clarification. The association of municipalities does not want to comment on any further details at the moment, because many questions are still open, according to a spokesman for the APA on Friday. The alleged cartel is likely to affect mainly smaller communities and their citizens. Nobody can yet estimate whether and how much the garbage fees might have been too high.

According to the Federal Coordinator ARGE of Austrian Waste Management Associations, Johann Mayr, the 35 largest cities in Austria do their own waste management, in Vienna for example MA48. You are therefore only marginally affected by the alleged agreements. Small municipalities, on the other hand, use private service providers or organize themselves supra-regionally, such as the 179 municipalities that have formed the Burgenland Garbage Association with their own landfill in Oberpullendorf.

23 companies under suspicion

The households of those municipalities and waste management associations that have outsourced waste collection to external companies could be affected by the alleged price fixing. A total of 23 companies across Austria are suspected of having driven up garbage fees through prohibited agreements. The municipalities pass on the costs of waste disposal to their citizens, so it would not have been harmed to the municipalities themselves, but to the households, which have to pay the garbage fees.

The garbage fees in Austria amount to around 800 to 900 million euros annually, but they vary greatly from municipality to municipality. According to Mayr, the garbage fees are lowest in Burgenland at 96 euros per year per household, but they can also amount to up to 350 euros elsewhere. One can only speculate about possible damage at the moment, said Mayr in an APA conversation. At the moment there are only investigations, it will take some time until a possible judgment by the cartel court and only then claims for damages will be possible.

According to the ORF, the investigation started with a key witness. The BWB is currently investigating a construction cartel, in which construction companies are said to have agreed on public contracts from municipalities, among other things. There are also points of contact between waste management and the construction industry, especially in the remediation of contaminated sites. Those in the know therefore do not rule out that the competition watchdogs came across the garbage cartel in their investigations into the construction cartel.

BWB boss Theodor Thanner said on ORF television on Thursday, “that the documents available to us speak of the fact that there has been a cartel here over the past 15 years. That is a very, very long period of time.” On average, a cartel lasts around three to four years. Thanner also did not quantify a possible amount of damage, but assumes a high number of people affected. “Each of us has to do with waste, waste is produced. And if the prices here are higher than the market allows, then we are all harmed.”

It is known that the house searches not only affected Energie AG in Upper Austria but also the Styrian Saubermacher AG and Brantner in Lower Austria. According to “Salzburger Nachrichten”, Rieger also had a visit from the investigators. According to information from the APA, there were a total of 23 anti-trust court-approved requests for house searches that took place this week.

One of the companies affected by the BWB investigations in Carinthia is Peter Seppele Gesellschaft mb H., where a house search was carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Feistritz an der Drau site (Villach-Land district). Managing director Peter Seppele confirmed this on Friday on APA request. Folders were searched and the investigators made copies of documents and data carriers. The company works for 28 municipalities in household waste disposal, a total of 50 municipalities as customers, as well as industrial and commercial enterprises and private individuals.

“I don’t think the investigators will find anything with us. We have nothing to blame,” said Seppele. The company is used to being constantly checked by the authorities. The managing director could not say exactly what led to the investigation by the federal competition authority. In any case, “certain emails” were submitted in which the company name was mentioned.

In Carinthia, the Saubermacher company also has a location in Villach. According to the city administration, this is not affected by the investigations of the federal competition authority, there was no house search. It is a private public partnership, the cooperation has been running since 2001. Villacher Saubermacher GmbH & Co KG, which is half owned by the city and the company, is responsible for municipal waste disposal, but also offers services for commercial enterprises. The company generates an annual turnover of more than ten million euros.

In Upper Austria, the SPÖ club chairman Michael Lindner demanded clarification on Friday as to whether Upper Austrians had been harmed. Because Energie AG is also affected, LH Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP) as owner representative must ensure transparency. “Services of general interest are about trust and reliability. That is why all cards have to be on the table immediately,” said Lindner in a broadcast. After all, citizens would receive a prescription for water, sewer and garbage and would have no choice.

“Full willingness to cooperate”

At Energie AG in Austria, which made the house searches public on Thursday and emphasized its “full willingness to cooperate”, the waste subsidiary Umwelt Service GmbH, which was formerly known as AVE, was frequently relocated in the management responsible. Allegedly because of the high economic pressure, according to industry circles, there should have been high profit expectations on the part of the banks involved. Energie AG Oberösterreich is majority owned by the state of Upper Austria, shares are also held by Raiffeisenlandesbank Oberösterreich, Oberbank, Hypo Oberösterreich and Sparkasse Oberösterreich. Verbund and voestalpine are just as involved as Tiwag and Linz AG.

In Lower Austria, community representatives are already threatening lawsuits. If price agreements with waste management companies come true, the municipalities and the garbage disposal associations should exhaust all legal remedies, said NÖ-GVV President Rupert Dworak on Friday at the APA request. The damage would not only lie with the municipalities and associations, but with the citizens themselves, added the SPÖ city chief of Ternitz in the Neunkirchen district. Dworak emphasized that there was an ongoing case. “It is the presumption of innocence.” Damage that may have occurred is of course to be sued, emphasized the GVV President. The Styrian FPÖ Federal Councilor Markus Leinfellner announced a parliamentary question to Economics Minister Margarete Schramböck (ÖVP).

Union calls for “clean conditions”

The vida union also called for “clean conditions” on Friday. In addition to clear award criteria based on the best bidder principle, a collective agreement is also urgently needed. “Unfortunately, due to the unregulated situation in the allocation of waste disposal services, a proliferation has established itself. We finally need a separate collective agreement for waste management in order to create the same conditions for everyone,” said trade unionist Karl Delfs. The Chamber of Commerce has been discussing a KV for over ten years. (apa)

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