Munich (dpa) – Hundreds of singing protesters provided the backdrop to Siemens’ tense annual shareholder’s meeting in Munich on Wednesday, as the German industrial giant faces criticism for its involvement in a controversial mining project.
Around 300 climate activists gathered outside the Olympic Hall venue in the southern city as the meeting got under way.
They carried banners condemning Siemens for its partnership with Indian conglomerate Adani, which is building one of the world’s largest open-cast mines in the Australian state of Queensland, and declaring, “We don’t need coal.”
Many of the protesters formed a human chain. Among them were supporters of the German branches of the Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion climate movements.
A police spokesman said the entrance to the building was briefly blocked by the protest.
Further protests were planned later in the day and some shareholders critical of the Adani contract were also expected to speak at the meeting.
Coal has been a major public issue in Germany in recent years, and the government recently set out ambitious plans to phase out polluting lignite-powered plants and other coal sites by 2038.
Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser appeared frustrated by the criticism, saying it was “grotesque” that the project in Australia had made Siemens a target of environmental protests.
“You cannot win on such issues, because the claim that many have on the other side is a legitimate one,” he said.
Siemens is to build the Adani mine’s rail-signalling infrastructure under a deal worth 18 million euros (19.9 million dollars).
Kaeser had decided to go ahead with the project in January, despite reassessing the contract in light of major protests in Germany and Australia.
Environmental protests aren’t the company’s only problem at the moment, as Kaeser presented quarterly results on Wednesday which in his words showed a “rather subdued” start to the conglomerate’s financial year.
Hit by a downturn in the automotive and manufacturing sectors, Siemens posted a 2-per-cent drop in orders to 24.8 billion euros (27.4 billion dollars) during the company’s first quarter, ending December 31.
Revenue rose by 1 per cent to 20.3 billion euros, while net income was slightly above the previous year’s level at almost 1.1 billion euros.
The company was also held back by losses at wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa, which was in the red in the first quarter due to delays on several projects.
This could hinder Siemens’ bid to launch a new energy company, with plans for Siemens Energy to go public later in the year.
But despite falling orders, the company has a backlog to work through of 149 billion euros, which it said was a new high.
This is likely to be Kaeser’s final annual shareholders’ meeting as head of the company, with his contract as board chairman set to expire at the end of the year. His deputy, Roland Busch, is seen as the likely successor.