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Brussels Scolds Germany Over VW Law

Planned German changes to a law protecting automaker Volkswagen from takeover bids are insufficient, a spokeswoman for the European Commission said on Thursday.

VW logo

The EU isn't pleased with a draft German law shielding Volkswagen from takeovers

The European Commission has said Germany must change a new draft law that would allow the government to keep its right to block hostile takeovers of automaker Volkswagen.

"We have written to Germany about the 'Volkswagen law'," the spokeswoman to EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said.

The VW law was introduced in 1960 as Volkswagen, founded by the Nazi regime before World War II, was being privatized, and was designed to shield the group from foreign takeover attempts.

VW headquarters

VW's state of Lower Saxony doesn't like the idea of a takeover of its beloved company

The crux of the law is that regardless of the amount of capital it owns, a shareholder cannot hold more than 20 percent of the voting rights in a company.

Last year Europe's top court ruled against the VW law.

"They haven't fully complied with the court judgment, the commission spokeswoman Catherine Bunyan said. "The draft amendment under consideration doesn't take into account the whole remarks of the court," in particular on the 20 percent voting threshold, she said.

Keeping a part of it

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries aims to retain a clause in the Volkswagen law that requires 80 percent of shareholders to approve decisions, compared with the 75 percent most common among other companies.

Production line in Wolfsburg, northern Germany

Production line in Wolfsburg, northern Germany

That clause gives the German state of Lower Saxony, holding 20.3 percent of voting rights, a de-facto blocking minority.

The EU commission spokeswoman said that an "ordinary letter" had been sent to the German justice ministry and was not the start of a formal infringement procedure, adding that there was no fixed deadline for Germany to respond.

The European Court of Justice had ruled that certain clauses of the so-called Volkswagen Law violated EU laws on free movement of capital.

Difference of opinion

Zypries reacted promptly to the letter with one of her own to express Germany's point of view.

The text said Germany saw in the October court ruling "no sufficiently explicit declaration" that supported the EU's position.

Zypries argued that the minority blocking stake did "not limit the free movement of capital."

A ministry spokesman told AFP: "We are now awaiting the Commission's reaction. We hope we have convinced them."

Porsche, which currently owns 31 percent of VW shares and plans to raise its stake to more than 50 percent at an unspecified date, has urged the German government to scrap the VW law altogether, after officials said they were working on a new draft that would pass EU muster.

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