· Published in Caring For Profit


In Germany, founders of private hospital companies are bankrolling the pro-business party FDP

Germans voted on the 26th of September to elect a new Bundestag, or federal parliament. The German pro-business party FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei, “Free Democratic Party”), traditionally close to the corporate world, got 11,5 % of the votes and will very likely be part of the next governmental coalition.

In the past ten years, the FDP received significant amount of funding from men and companies who have played a key role in the emergence of large for-profit hospital groups in Germany.

German law allows private persons and companies to fund political parties. But above 50,000 euros, the name of the donors have to be disclosed on the website of the Bundestag. The data reveals that in July 2021, two months before the federal election, a man called Walter Wübben donated 100,000 euros to the FDP.

Until 2011, Walter Wübben was the main shareholder and CEO of the Damp group, a company of private hospitals active in the north of Germany. In 2011, Wübben sold his company, for an unknown price, to Helios, another group of private hospitals founded in 1994, which was itself acquired by another company, Fresenius, in 2005.

In 2011, the FDP was part of the German government, as a junior partner to the CDU, the party of Angela Merkel, in a two-parties coalition. The ministry of Health was even held by a FDP man at the time, Daniel Bahr.

From 2013, Walter Wübben began to fund the FDP through his new company, R&W Industriebeteiligungen GmbH. R&W Industriebeteiligungen donated 200,000 euros to the FDP in 2013 and 2014, 250,000 in 2015, 200,000 euros in 2016, more than 206,000 euros in 2017, 100,000 in 2018, and again 100,000 euros in 2019. Then came the direct personal donation last July (see that article by The Spiegel).

Another major donor to the German pro-business party is a key figure in the German private hospitals sector : Lutz Helmig. The man, a billionaire, donated 200,000 euros to the FDP in November 2015 and 300,000 euros in January 2017.

Lutz Helmig, a surgeon, co-founded the Asklepios group in 1984, together with Bernard Broermann. Lutz Helmig spun off his shares of Asklepios in 1994 and then founded the Helios Kliniken group. "After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he expanded in Eastern Germany, bought ailing hospitals in the former GDR and continued to expand with the newly created company Helios Kliniken”, the German newspaper Tageszeitung explained in 2013.

“In 2001. Dr. Helmig retires from the management of the company, which has now grown to 20 clinics, and four years later sells Helios to the Fresenius health care group”, says the Helios group on its website. In 2005, Lutz Helmig sold his shares in Helios for 1.58 billion euros to the Fresenius Group, a listed pharmaceutical and and medical technology company, which has also been expanding into the hospital market since 2001. In the words of the economic German newspaper Handelsblatt in 2018 , “Lutz Helmig has become rich with the hospital chains Asklepios and Helios”, .

According to the Lobbypedia database published by the German organization Lobbycontrol (a member of ENCO), Lutz Helmig is also a member of the FDP’s Economic Forum (Wirtschaftsforum der FDP), an informal group linked to the party that was founded in January 2016. Members of this group include high-ranking employees of the influential employers lobby organisations Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (BDA) and Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft (INSM). The FDP’s Economic Forum is supposed to advise and support the FDP leadership. In a position paper, it has demanded that the market once again be given regulatory priority over state regulation and transfer policy.

There is little doubt that the positions of the FDP on healthcare could be shared by the businessmen who built their fortune on private for-profit clinics. In its electoral platform, the party says: “We reject unequal treatment of private, public and non-profit hospitals operators just as strongly as we reject a planning sovereignty of the health insurance funds for health care structures”. That means that the FDP thinks that private hospitals should, for example, get the same amount of public investment than public and non-profit hospitals.

Rachel Knaebel

- Mapping the privatisation of healthcare in Europe
- Resources on privatisation of healthcare in Europe
Article published as part of our investigation: «Caring For Profit»
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