Four million euros. For this sum, the Bundeswehr receives 204 grenade machine guns from Heckler & Koch or a complete advertising campaign with cinema spots, posters and online banners. For four million euros, the Ministry of Defense will also get as many free journeys this year for its 184,000 soldiers. So it is in the special agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and DB Fernverkehr AG and DB Regio AG of December 16, 2019. The Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg) has confirmed the sum. The soldiers are also allowed to use long-distance trains privately and many regional trains. You book through your own booking system.
From January to April of the year, 225,000 such free trips have already been carried out. The Ministry of Defense does not publish more recent figures. One is satisfied there: The trips would be "very well received", says a ministry spokeswoman. The railway announces that the number of tickets booked is "above the previous assumptions".
If you add up the figures for the first four months of the year, there could be around 675,000 free tickets. The train would get almost six euros per trip. In the end, there will probably be even more free tickets, because even among the soldiers, the Corona crisis in April led to a significant decline in train journeys. How much exactly the company pays for each Bundeswehr ticket is difficult to calculate. Route length, demand, booking period - these are factors that are included in the price when booking. But one thing is certain: The cheapest long-distance ticket currently costs EUR 17.90 for normal customers.
The four million euros for the free journeys are paid from tax funds. In the end, losses made by the railroad also. The railway is a private group, but the owner is the state. And if in doubt, he has to shoot money. The group already has 25 billion euros in debt. Because of the pandemic, the company expects further losses of up to 13 billion euros by 2024. The question therefore arises: why did Deutsche Bahn agree to such a deal with the Bundeswehr? And what does he say about the relationship between politics and DB?
Scheuer's "heart concerns"
It is not uncommon for major customers to get discounted conditions from Deutsche Bahn. BMW and Volkswagen employees can buy a job ticket and save ten to 15 percent compared to the price of a normal annual ticket. The following applies here: the larger the purchase quantity, the higher the discount. In addition, Deutsche Bahn can negotiate with companies at eye level - unlike with a ministry.
Deutsche Bahn has been a stock corporation since 1994. The federal government is the sole shareholder - represented by the Federal Ministry of Transport. When the free journeys were negotiated, Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer (CSU) was sitting at the table next to railway chief Richard Lutz - to agree on a price with Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU).
Scheuer negotiated a project that his party had brought along and which he himself calls a "matter of the heart". The idea is not new among Union politicians, but the last attempt at the beginning of 2019 picked up speed when the CSU national group included the free tickets in the program at their retreat in Seeon Abbey. Federal Transport Minister Scheuer was also present. In May, CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt, until 2017 Minister of Transport himself, announced that the free trips were a foregone conclusion. When the CDU politician Annegret Kramp-Karenbauer was sworn in as the new defense minister in July, the ticket was one of the first ideas that she presented in her government statement.
With regard to the cost of free travel, there were clear differences between the railway and the ministry right from the start. While the Ministry of Defense assumed an annual budget of almost 20 million euros, the railroad is said to have extrapolated around 38 million euros annually for an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 soldier tickets. The Spiegel reported it in August 2019. In addition, the railroad insisted that soldiers should only use long-distance trains like the ICE, but no regional connections. Shortly afterwards, the regulation that had been in force since January of this year was announced - for a lump sum of four million euros.