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Deutsche Bank CEO wants name cleared; EU could launch proceedings against German can deposit system; Leadership crisis at IG Metall union escalates and Prodi unwilling to forgive Germany for stability pact violation.

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Elements of Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin's new can deposit system has sparked criticism within the EU

Deutsche Bank chief wants charges dropped

Chief Executive of Deutsche Bank Josef Ackermann has asked a German court to drop charges against him relating to payoffs worth € 99 million made to top executives and union leaders of German telecoms company Mannesmann. The payments were approved by a Mannesmann committee, of which Ackermann was a part, when the company was battling a hostile takeover bid from UK telecoms group Vodafone in 2000. Ackermann has been charged with breach of trust. Others charged include Klaus Esser, former head of Mannesmann, and Klaus Zwickel, head of German engineering and metal workers’ union IG Metall. German prosecutors argue the payments to Mannesmann executives were tied to their decision to give up their opposition to the Vodafone bid. However Ackermann’s defense counsel argued the charges should be scrapped because they lack credibility under German criminal and corporate law. Ackermann’s lawyers further argued payments made to Esser and others were "appropriate" because they had made an "exceptional contribution to an increase in the value of Mannesmann which was unique in the history of the company."

EU may take up arms against German can deposit system

European Union Internal Market Commissioner Fritz Bolkestein plans to start proceedings against Germany for a "breach of contract" relating to the country’s can deposit regulations introduced this year. The new regulations charge a deposit on cans and bottles considered environmentally unfriendly. German business daily Handelsblatt reported Friday that Bolkestein believed the current regulations discriminated against foreign drinks importers who almost exclusively offer disposables and thus hinder the free drinks trade in the EU. Handelsblatt however reported the EU commission’s criticism wasn’t directed towards the can deposit system and the planned bottle-return program, but rather at the regulations bridging the two, whereby bottles and cans can only be returned to the shops where one buys them. Proceedings are expected to be initiated in the coming week. German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin was unruffled by the prospects of a looming lawsuit. Trittin’s spokesman said Friday in Berlin a "breach of contract" process against the can deposit had "no legal basis."

IG Metall in further disarray

The leadership crisis at Germany’s once-powerful engineering and metal workers’ union IG Metall deepened on Friday after outgoing chief Klaus Zwickel unexpectedly called off a press conference, at which he was slated to name his predecessor. IG Metall spokesman Claus Eilrich explained more time was needed to find a solution than earlier thought. German daily Financial Times Deutschland reported that Zwickel may nominate former German Labor Minister Walter Riester to temporarily lead the country’s second-largest union which suffered one of its most crippling defeats when a strike for the 35-hour-week in eastern Germany failed last month. Zwickel this month blamed Jürgen Peters, the union’s designated chairman, for the failed strike and called on him to step down. Union members have sharply criticized the ongoing power dispute. Head of IG Metall in Bavaria Werner Neugebauer urged an end to the "circus number" being played out in the union.

EU wants Germany to play by stability pact rules

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and EU Commission President Romano Prodi have urged more flexible conditions for the European Union’s stability and growth pact that governs eurozone countries’ public-spending policies. "We want to preserve the pact, as long as there are no new instruments, but want to interpret it flexibly," Schröder said after talks with Prodi in Berlin on Friday. Prodi too acknowledged the EU couldn’t "lift or freeze the pact, but could only interpret it with a degree of flexibility." At the same time Schröder stressed the EU "had in no way begun proceedings against Germany" for failing to uphold it. The pact, which lays a ceiling of 3 percent of a country’s Gross Domestic Product on its budget, has been the source of much tension within the EU this week, with both France and Germany urging a relaxation of the strict rules. Both countries face the prospect of hefty fines for failing to rein in their spiraling budget deficits. In an interview earlier on Friday, Prodi however made clear that Brussels could no longer turn a blind eye to France and Germany’s violation of the pact, saying that if the two nations incurred further massive debts in 2004, the EU commission would have no choice but to impose a penalty.