European editorialists sounded off Thursday on the ramifications of Germany's highest court deciding the previous day to reopen the long-running Mannesmann which could cost Deutsche Bank CEO Ackermann his job.
Esser (photo) and Ackermann will be back in the dock
"Now it's for sure: When Mannesmann's supervisory board handed out millions in bonuses during the takeover by Vodafone in spring 2000, it committed breach of trust," wrote Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitu n g daily. "The German Federal Court of Justice is convinced of that. On Wednesday the judge thus overruled the Düsseldorf district court's acquittal. For the defendants, who in addition to former Mannesmann boss Klaus Esser include current Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann, it's a bitter defeat. For Germany as a place of business, on the other hand, it's a good decision. In the long term, it will strengthen investors' confidence in Germany as a financial venue."
"Though possibly a sound legal ruling -- but from a liberal point of view a deeply questionable one -- that the federal court made in the Mannesmann case, it illustrates three things," Berlin's Die Welt newspaper commented. "First: In Germany, managers who -- with the approval of their company's owners -- receive special bonuses for their performance must fear criminal prosecution. Second: In Germany, judges may decide what the true interests of private companies are. Third: The German state possesses an arsenal of legally flexible concepts with which it may intrude on everyday business operations. The economically productive class is consigned to the arbitrariness of officials to the detriment of Germany as a place of business."
Ackermann, a Swiss national, may soon be looking for a job outside Germany
"Managers and high-level trade union representatives agree when it comes to taking advantage of their leadership positions," wrote French business daily La Tribu n e. "That's also what the German court ruling to open a new chapter in the Mannesmann trial is about. The highly controversial practice of the golden handshake is certainly not limited to German business circles. The German court decision will also mark business practices outside Germany. Beyond that it will hopefully have a moderating effect on pledges of millions of euros in bonuses for company leaders."
"With its ruling … the German Federal Court of Justice further advanced nationalization and insecurity of German business," criticized Switzerland's Neue Zürcher Zeitu n g daily. "The legal proceedings should be retried and judged again. The possible developments are hardly as open as this sentence may sound. The ruling indicates a creeping expansion of state influence. … In today's Germany rather it's the state and the courts that define companies' interests."
"A difficult burden would have arisen for Germany as a business venue if the judges had tried to decide if the amounts of the bonuses were appropriate," Germany's Fra n kfurter Allgemei n e Zeitu n g wrote. "They wisely refrained from that. … During the retrial it should always be kept in mind that Ackermann didn't make money out of it personally and that the subsequent owner of Mannesmann, Vodafone, didn't object to the bonus payments, although Vodafone was ultimately the one to bear the financial consequences. … The decision makes at least one thing clear: It's a warning sign for supervisory and management boards that are all too bonus-hungry and high-handed."