Liquidating the public sector? Water privatization in France and Germany

Kimberly A Fitch, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation considers local water privatization processes and outcomes in OECD countries, with a focus on Germany and France. It asks why Germany, with its decentralized political economy and liberalized electricity, gas, and telecommunications sectors, has retained water largely in the public realm, while France, the quintessential etatiste nation, exhibits large-scale private management in its water sector even as it retains majority ownership of the gas and electricity sectors. I argue that budgetary concerns, rather than ideological or political considerations, are the root cause of local water privatization processes; and that the success of these processes is predicated on the territorial and economic centralization of the state, which affect the municipal political opportunity structures that local social movements can exploit. A territorially and economically decentralized state provides a more open political opportunity structure for civil society groups to oppose water privatization successfully. Paradoxically, a centralized, etatiste state with a large public sector encourages privatization in the case of water because it implies limited institutional opportunities for local opposition movements to utilize. In-depth historical case studies based on content analysis, surveys, and interviews examine water privatization processes in Berlin and Hamburg in Germany and Paris and Grenoble in France. The research design traces the process of water privatization in the cities under consideration and analyzes cross-national, sub-national, and temporal variation to conclude that decentralized states are less likely to exhibit privatized water. This dissertation offers a theoretical refinement to literature that considers national level factors as the main causes of political economy outcomes, arguing that an additional focus on the subnational level is necessary to fully explain the puzzle of water privatization.

Subject Area

Political science|Public administration

Recommended Citation

Fitch, Kimberly A, "Liquidating the public sector? Water privatization in France and Germany" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3260904.