August 6, 2018 / 10:10 PM / a year ago

Berlin wants power to intervene if non-EU buyer gets 15 percent of a German firm: report

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin wants to be able to intervene in investments and takeovers if an investor outside the European Union acquires a shareholding of at least 15 percent in a German company, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Berlin tightened controls on foreign investments last year after a series of high-profile takeovers by Chinese companies, making it possible for the government to intervene if a buyer amassed a shareholding of 25 percent.

The Economy Ministry should be able to intervene if a non-EU investor “acquires a direct or indirect shareholding of at least 15 percent of voting rights in a German company,” Die Welt newspaper cited a draft law as saying.

In Germany and other countries including the United States, France, Australia and Britain, there are concerns that China and other rivals are gaining access to key technologies via takeovers.

The proposal to change the German Foreign Trade Ordinance is being coordinated with other ministries and a law that provides for more control could come into effect this year, Die Welt reported.

“When it comes to defense-related companies, critical infrastructure or certain areas of other civil security-related technologies such as IT security, we want to take a closer look in future,” it quoted German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier as saying.

“Until now we’ve only been able to make checks when at least 25 percent of a company’s shares have been acquired. Now we want to lower this threshold so we can review more acquisitions in sensitive economic sectors,” he added.

Altmaier said Germany still wanted companies to invest in Germany but added attentiveness where such investment affects national security interests was part of the social market economy.

Last week the German government signaled it was prepared to use a new power to veto foreign takeovers of German companies in the case of a Chinese bid for toolmaker Leifeld. That came after Leifeld’s majority owner Georg Koffler said China’s Yantai Taihai had dropped its attempt to buy the company ahead of an expected veto by the German government.

Last month, a German state bank bought a stake in high-voltage grid operator 50Hertz to prevent China’s state grid acquiring the shareholding and promised to consider ways of better protecting companies from foreign acquisition.

The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service has also said that Chinese state actors seeking trade secrets could be behind bids that nominally came from private firms, highlighting a seeming correlation between a decline in hacking attempts originating from China with an increase in bids.

Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Alexander Smith

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