Terminvereinbarung, Online, Bürgeramt, Bezirksamt Berlin, aufgenommen am 27. September 2019. Foto: Kitty Kleist-Heinrich

Do you remember how it used to be to send a parcel or a registered letter in the post? Back when this was only possible in the post office and not also in late night shops, parcel shops and other service providers? Eternally long queues, limited opening times and people behind the counter who were often in a bad mood – yes, it was a high price that you had to pay for such a service in addition to the postage until the early 1990s.

So roughly like today when you have to apply for an ID card or extend a passport in Berlin. Except that here, unlike in the days of the postal monopoly, you don’t even know if you’ll ever reach your goal.

Anyone who inquires about an appointment at the Citizens Registration Office for this service on the website operated by the State of Berlin, which bears the euphemistic and undeserved title “service.berlin.de”, will be informed that the next two months are fully booked are – and not just in the office around the corner, but throughout Berlin. As if serving the citizen is a natural resource that will eventually run out. The basic principle of supply and demand does not seem to exist here. But why not? Why can’t these services, which the state absolutely wants to offer exclusively but is obviously overwhelmed by it, simply be delegated to actors who can do something better?

Depending on the size of the document, the Citizens’ Registration Office collects 60 to 80 euros for a new passport – and that’s for a product whose production, including administrative costs, costs just over 40 euros, according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

With this profit margin, it should be easy to find private operators who organize the allocation of these documents and perhaps also try out a few urgently overdue innovations. How about, for example, if citizens could simply submit their application by post or even online?

“Berlin has a stamp fetish,” an IT expert from Switzerland recently confirmed to our city in the Tagesspiegel. Swiss Post has managed to get rid of this fetish – it must be possible in other areas too.

Of course, privatization is not an all-purpose solution, especially not if it takes place without clear guidelines and without control by state institutions, which have to ensure that everything complies with the rules even with privatized services and that it is primarily the citizens who benefit, not the companies.

The example of the S-Bahn, which has been run down under pressure for a long time, or the non-transparent issuing of licenses for corona test centers, especially in Berlin, show that public services do not automatically improve if they are operated by profit-oriented companies.

But at least as far as actually simple services are concerned, such as applying for and distributing ID documents, one can say with some certainty: A private provider will hardly handle it worse than Berlin – otherwise the competition would be at the door to do it better.