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German Press Review: Big Business in the Dock

German newspapers Wednesday commented on the Mannesmann court case and the future of Florian Gerster, the head of the country’s Federal Labor Office, who has lately come under fire for costly PR and consulting contracts.

The beginning of a court case against six German managers over their role in the takeover of Mannesmann by the telecommunications giant Vodafone has lead many German editorialists to reflect on the relationship between business ethics versus business law.

Impertinent! That’s the only thing that can be said about the greediness of the Mannesmann clique, wrote the Berliner Kurier. They have earned it, argue the ‘experts’ from the upper floors. After all, the shareholders have gained mightily from the takeover. But the process which is now under way, said the paper, underscores the fact that German share law is one thing – and ethics and propriety is something very different.

The court won’t be able answer the most important question, argued Der Tagesspiegel. And this question is how to lead a good enterprise. Neither will the court be able to define the thin line between a healthy bonus for good managers and pure greed, nor the line between moral behavior and irresponsible action.

Extreme cases in recent years have shown that economic power needs to be checked, wrote the Nürnberger Nachrichten. But the paper thinks that courts are the wrong institutions for this. Judges only take criminal liability into account, not ethical points of view. But the court case can do one thing, argued the paper: To stir up a debate as to what kind of rules German society wants to put in place on the economy and where the borders should run with regard to entrepreneurial liberty.

Other German dailies have taken a closer look at the political future of Florian Gerster, head of the Germany’s Federal Labor office.

As interested as some political circles might be in showing him up in order to denounce his reform ideas, Florian Gerster’s worst enemy, is Gerster himself, wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau. If it turns out to be true what has been filtering out of Nuremberg in the past few days, Gerster might become a real risk for the reform of his institution, predicted the paper. One might overlook one wrong decision when it comes to placing orders to PR or consultant firms. But three, four or even more cases – that will cost more in terms of reputation than a dozen PR campaigns could have built up.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung observed that bit by bit, the German government is withdrawing support for Gerster. The individual cases might not be all that grave. But all of them taken together, argued the Munich-based daily, make it difficult to keep him. What was wanted was a Messiah for Germany’s social system, wrote the conservative paper Die Welt. But so much is clear: Gerster is neither a saint nor a super-human being. Now, there’s a somewhat burnt smell emanating from Gerster’s files, and the first clouds of smoke have reached his boss, German Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement. Before his ministry is goes up in flames, predicted the paper, Gerster has to take his leave. Until then, however, he has continue to pretend that he has super-human powers after all.