3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Germany has transparent and effective laws and policies to promote competition, including antitrust laws. The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are complex but transparent and consistent with international norms.
Public consultation by federal authorities is regulated by the Joint Rules of Procedure, which specify that ministries must consult early and extensively with a range of stakeholders on all new legislative proposals. In practice, laws and regulations in Germany are routinely published in draft, and public comments are solicited. According to the Joint Procedural Rules, ministries should consult the concerned industries’ associations (rather than single companies), consumer organizations, environmental, and other NGOs. The consultation period generally takes two to eight weeks.
The German Institute for Standardization (DIN) is open to foreign members.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a member of the European Union, Germany must observe and implement directives and regulations adopted by the EU. EU regulations are binding and enter into force as immediately applicable law. Directives, on the other hand, constitute a type of framework law that is to be implemented by the Member States in their respective legislative processes, which is regularly observed in Germany.
EU Member States must implement directives within a specified period of time. Should a deadline not be met, the Member State may suffer the initiation of an infringement procedure, which could result in steep fines. Germany has a set of rules that prescribe how to break down any payment of fines devolving on the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder). Both bear part of the costs. Payment requirements by the individual states depend on the size of their population and the respective part they played in non-compliance.
The federal states have a say over European affairs through the Bundesrat (upper chamber of parliament). The Federal Government must inform the Bundesrat at an early stage of any new EU policies that are relevant for the federal states.
The Federal Government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) through the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
German law is both predictable and reliable. Companies can effectively enforce property and contractual rights. Germany’s well-established enforcement laws and official enforcement services ensure that investors can assert their rights. German courts are fully available to foreign investors in an investment dispute.
The judicial system is independent, and the government does not interfere in the court system. The legislature sets the systemic and structural parameters, while lawyers and civil law notaries use the law to shape and organize specific situations. Judges are highly competent and impartial. International studies and empirical data have attested that Germany offers an effective court system committed to due process and the rule of law.
In Germany, most important legal issues and matters are governed by comprehensive legislation in the form of statutes, codes and regulations. Primary legislation in the area of business law includes:
- the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated as BGB), which contains general rules on the formation, performance and enforcement of contracts and on the basic types of contractual agreements for legal transactions between private entities;
- the Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, abbreviated as HGB), which contains special rules concerning transactions among businesses and commercial partnerships;
- the Private Limited Companies Act (GmbH-Gesetz) and the Public Limited Companies Act (Aktiengesetz), covering the two most common corporate structures in Germany – the ‘GmbH’ and the ‘Aktiengesellschaft’; and
- the Act on Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, abbreviated as UWG), which prohibits misleading advertising and unfair business practices.
Apart from the regular courts, which hear civil and criminal cases, Germany has specialized courts for administrative law, labor law, social law, and finance and tax law. Many civil regional courts have specialized chambers for commercial matters. In 2018, the first German regional courts for civil matters (in Frankfurt and Hamburg) established Chamber for International Commercial Disputes introducing the possibility to hear international trade disputes in English. Other federal states are currently discussing plans to introduce these specialized chambers as well. The Federal Patent Court hears cases on patents, trademarks, and utility rights which are related to decisions by the German Patent and Trademarks Office. Both the German Patent Office (Deutsches Patentamt) and the European Patent Office are headquartered in Munich.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers in cases where investors seek to acquire at least 25 percent of the voting rights to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the case of acquisitions of critical infrastructure and companies in sensitive sectors, the threshold for triggering an investment review by the government is 10 percent. The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for screening investments. In 2019, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy screened a total of 106 foreign acquisitions. To our knowledge, it had not prohibited any acquisitions as of May 2020, however the prospect of rejection has caused at least one foreign investor to pull out of a prospective deal. All decisions resulting are subject to judicial review by administrative courts.
In general, there is no requirement for investors to obtain approval for any acquisition, but they must notify the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy if the target company operates critical infrastructure. In that case, or if the company provides services related to critical infrastructure or is a media company, the threshold for initiating an investment review is the acquisition of at least 10 percent of voting rights. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may launch a review within three months after obtaining knowledge of the acquisition; the review must be concluded within four months after receipt of the full set of relevant documents. An investor may also request a binding certificate of non-objection from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in advance of the planned acquisition to obtain legal certainty at an early stage. If the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy does not open an in-depth review within two months from the receipt of the request, the certificate shall be deemed as granted.
Special rules apply for the acquisition of companies that operate in sensitive security areas, including defense and IT security. In contrast to the cross-sectoral rules described above, all sensitive acquisitions must be notified in written form including basic information of the planned acquisition, the buyer, the domestic company that is subject of the acquisition and the respective fields of business. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may open a formal review procedure if a foreign investor seeks to acquire at least 10 percent of voting rights of a German company in a sensitive security area within three months after receiving notification, or the acquisition shall be deemed as approved. If a review procedure is opened, the buyer is required to submit further documents. The acquisition may be restricted or prohibited within three months after the full set of documents has been submitted.
The German government amended domestic investment screening provisions, effective June 2017, clarifying the scope for review and giving the government more time to conduct reviews, in reaction to an increasing number of acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors with apparent ties to national governments, . The amended provisions provide a clearer definition of sectors in which foreign investment can pose a “threat to public order and security,” including operators of critical infrastructure, developers of software to run critical infrastructure, telecommunications operators or companies involved in telecom surveillance, cloud computing network operators and service providers, and telematics companies, and which are subject to notification requirements. The new rules also extended the time to assess a cross-sector foreign investment from two to four months, and for investments in sensitive sectors, from one to three months, and introduced the possibility of retroactively initiating assessments for a period of five years after the conclusion of an acquisition. Indirect acquisitions such as those through a Germany- or EU-based affiliate company are now also explicitly subject to the new rules.
In 2018, the government further lowered the threshold for the screening of investments, allowing authorities to screen acquisitions by foreign entities of at least 10 percent of voting rights of German companies that operate critical infrastructure (down from 25 percent), as well as companies providing services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses to which the lower threshold applies, given the ability of foreign actors to engage in disinformation is independent of subjective quotas.
Further amendments, still in draft as of May 2020, will
a) introduce a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat,
b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and
c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.
Furthermore, acquisitions by foreign government-owned or funded entities will now trigger a review, and the healthcare industry will be considered a sensitive sector to which the stricter 10% threshold applies. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy said it would draft a further amendment later in 2020 which would include a list of sensitive technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructure) to include artificial intelligence, robotics, semiconductors, biotechnology, and quantum technology. Foreign investors who seek to acquire at least 10% of ownership rights of a German company in one those fields would be required to notify the government and potentially become subject to an investment review. With these draft and planned amendments, Germany is implementing the 2019 EU Screening Regulation.
The Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides comprehensive information on Germany’s investment screening regime on its website in English:
The German Economic Development Agency (GTAI) provides extensive information for investors, including about the legal framework, labor-related issues and incentive programs, on their website: http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/investment-guide.html.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The German government ensures competition on a level playing field on the basis of two main legal codes:
The Law against Limiting Competition (Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen – GWB) is the legal basis for the fight against cartels, merger control, and monitoring abuse. State and Federal cartel authorities are in charge of enforcing anti-trust law. In exceptional cases, the Minister for Economics and Energy can provide a permit under specific conditions. A June 2017 amendment to the GWB expanded the reach of the Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) to include internet and data-based business models; as a result, the FCA investigated Facebook’s data collection practices regarding potential abuse of market power. A February 2019 FCA decision found that Facebook abused its dominant position in social media to harvest user data. Facebook challenged the FCA’s decision in court, but in June 2020, Germany’s highest court upheld the FCA’s action. The decision is likely to embolden the FCA in challenging the conduct of large tech platforms, particularly with regard to user data. In November 2018, the FCA initiated an investigation of Amazon over potential abuse of market power; a July 2019 decision by the FCA led Amazon to make the requested changes to their terms of business. The case was subsequently closed.
In January 2020, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy published additional draft amendments to the GWB, which were aimed at codifying tools that will allow greater scrutiny of digital platforms, particularly access to data. The FCA has stated its support for the proposed amendments. Among their provisions, the proposed amendments add access to data as a consideration in assessing a company’s market dominance and allow the FCA to declare that a digital business is of “paramount significance” in multi-sided markets, even if it lacks dominance. Upon designation as being of paramount significance, the FCA would have authority to prohibit these businesses from taking a variety of actions. The proposed amendments remain subject to legislative passage.
The Law against Unfair Competition, whose goal – unlike the GWB – is not to preserve access to the market as a basic requirement for competition but to protect competitors, consumers and other market participants against unfair competitive behavior by companies, can be invoked in regional courts.
Expropriation and Compensation
German law provides that private property can be expropriated for public purposes only in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with established principles of constitutional and international law. There is due process and transparency of purpose, and investors and lenders to expropriated entities receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.
The Berlin state government is currently reviewing a petition for a referendum submitted by a citizens’ initiative which calls for the expropriation of residential apartments owned by large corporations. At least one party in the governing coalition officially supports the proposal. Certain long-running expropriation cases date back to the Nazi and communist regimes. During the 2008-9 global financial crisis, the parliament adopted a law allowing emergency expropriation if the insolvency of a bank would endanger the financial system, but the measure expired without having been used.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Germany is a member of both the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under certain conditions.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors in Germany are extremely rare. According to the UNCTAD database of treaty-based investor dispute settlement cases, Germany has been challenged a handful of times, none of which involved U.S. investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Germany has a domestic arbitration body called the German Arbitration Institute (DIS). ”Book 10” of the German Code of Civil Procedure addresses arbitration proceedings. The International Chamber of Commerce has an office in Berlin. In addition, local chambers of commerce and industry offer arbitration services.
German insolvency law, as enshrined in the Insolvency Code, supports and promotes restructuring. If a business or the owner of a business becomes insolvent, or a business is over-indebted, insolvency proceedings can be initiated by filing for insolvency; legal persons are obliged to do so. Insolvency itself is not a crime, but deliberately late filing for insolvency is.
Under a regular insolvency procedure, the insolvent business is generally broken up in order to recover assets through the sale of individual items or rights or parts of the company. Proceeds can then be paid out to creditors in the insolvency proceedings. The distribution of monies to creditors follows detailed instructions in the Insolvency Code.
Equal treatment of creditors is enshrined in the Insolvency Code. Some creditors have the right to claim property back. Post-adjudication preferred creditors are served out of insolvency assets during the insolvency procedure. Ordinary creditors are served on the basis of quotas from the remaining insolvency assets. Secondary creditors, including shareholder loans, are only served if insolvency assets remain after all others have been served. Germany ranks fourth in the global ranking of “Resolving Insolvency” in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, with a recovery rate of 79.8 cents on the dollar.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The German Government adheres to a policy of national treatment, which considers property owned by foreigners as fully protected under German law. In Germany, mortgage approvals are based on recognized and reliable collateral. Secured interests in property, both chattel and real, are recognized and enforced. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, it takes an average of 52 days to register property in Germany.
The German Land Register Act dates back to 1897 and was last amended in 2019. The land register mirrors private real property rights and provides information on the legal relationship of the estate. It documents the owner, rights of third persons, as well as liabilities and restrictions. Any change in property of real estate must be registered in the land registry to make the contract effective. Land titles are now maintained in an electronic database and can be consulted by persons with a legitimate interest.
Intellectual Property Rights
Germany has a robust regime to protect intellectual property rights (IPR). Legal structures are strong and enforcement is good. Nonetheless, internet piracy and counterfeit goods remain issues, and specific infringing websites are included in USTR’s 2019 Notorious Markets List. Germany has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1970. The German Central Customs Authority annually publishes statistics on customs seizures of counterfeit and pirated goods. The statistics for 2018 can be found under: https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/jahresstatistik_2018.html?nn=287024 .
Germany is party to the major international IPR agreements: the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Brussels Satellite Convention, the Treaty of Rome on Neighboring Rights, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Many of the latest developments in German IPR law are derived from European legislation with the objective to make applications less burdensome and allow for European IPR protection. Germany is currently drafting legislation to implement EU Directive 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market, including an ancillary copyright law for publishers, following a public consultation process.
The following types of protection are available:
Copyrights: National treatment is granted to foreign copyright holders, including remuneration for private recordings. Under the TRIPS Agreement, Germany grants legal protection for U.S. performing artists against the commercial distribution of unauthorized live recordings in Germany. Germany is party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, which came into force in 2010. Most rights holder organizations regard German authorities’ enforcement of IP rights as effective. In 2008, Germany implemented the EU Directive (2004/48/EC) on IPR enforcement with a national bill, thereby strengthening the privileges of rights holders and allowing for improved enforcement action.
Trademarks: National treatment is granted to foreigners seeking to register trademarks at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office. Protection is valid for a period of ten years and can be extended in ten-year periods. It is possible to register for trademark and design protection nationally in Germany or with the EU Trade Mark and/or Registered Community Design. These provide protection for industrial design or trademarks in the entire EU market. Both national trademarks and European Community Trade Marks (CTMs) can be applied for from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as part of an international trademark registration system, or the applicant may apply directly for those trademarks from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) at https://euipo.europa.eu/ohimportal/en/home .
Patents: National treatment is granted to foreigners seeking to register patents at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office. Patents are granted for technical inventions that are new, involve an inventive step, and are industrially applicable. However, applicants having neither a domicile nor an establishment in Germany must appoint a patent attorney in Germany as a representative filing the patent application. The documents must be submitted in German or with a translation into German. The duration of a patent is 20 years from the patent application filing date. Patent applicants can request accelerated examination under the Global Patent Protection Highway (GPPH) when filing the application, provided that the patent application was previously filed at the USPTO and that at least one claim had been determined to be patentable. There are a number of differences between U.S. and German patent law, including the filing systems (“first-inventor-to-file” versus “first-to-file”, respectively), that a qualified patent attorney can explain to U.S. patent applicants. German law also offers the possibility to register designs and utility models.
If a U.S. applicant seeks to file a patent in multiple European countries, this may be accomplished through the European Patent Office (EPO) which grants European patents for the contracting states to the European Patent Convention (EPC). The 38 contracting states include the entire EU membership and several additional European countries; Germany joined the EPC in 1977. It should be noted that some EPC members require a translation of the granted European patent in their language for validation purposes. The EPO provides a convenient single point to file a patent in as many of these countries as an applicant would like: https://www.epo.org/applying/basics.html . U.S. applicants seeking patent rights in multiple countries can alternatively file an international Patent Coordination Treaty (PCT) application with the USPTO.
Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are protected in Germany by the Law for the Protection of Trade Secrets, which has been in force since April 2019 and implements the 2016 EU Directive (2016/943). According to the law, the illegal accessing, appropriation, and copying of trade secrets, including through social engineering, is prohibited. Explicitly exempt from the law is “reverse engineering” of a publicly available item, and appropriation, usage, or publication of a trade secret to protect a “legitimate interest”, including journalistic research and whistleblowing. The law requires that companies have to implement “adequate confidentiality measures” for information to be protected as a trade secret under the law. Owners of trade secrets are entitled to omission, compensation, and information about the culprit, as well as the destruction, return and recall, and ultimately the removal of the infringing products from the market.
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .
For additional information about how to protect IPR in Germany, please see Germany Trade & Invest website at https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/the-legal-framework/patents-licensing-trade-marks-65372 .
Statistics on the seizure of counterfeit goods are available through the German Customs Authority (Zoll):
Investors can identify IPR lawyers in AmCham Germany’s Online Services Directory: https://www.amcham.de/services/overview/member-services/address-services-directory/ (under “legal references” select “intellectual property.”)
Businesses can also join the Anti-counterfeiting Association (APM)
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
As an EU member state with a well-developed financial sector, Germany welcomes foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system. Germany has a very open economy, routinely ranking among the top countries in the world for exports and inward and outward foreign direct investment. As a member of the Eurozone, Germany does not have sole national authority over international payments, which are a shared task of the Eurosystem, comprised of the European Central Bank and the national central banks of the 19 member states that are part of the eurozone, including the German Central Bank (Bundesbank). A European framework for national security screening of foreign investments, which entered into force in April 2019, provides a basis under European law to restrict capital movements into Germany on the basis of threats to national security. Global investors see Germany as a safe place to invest, as the real economy – up until the COVID-19 crisis hit – continued to outperform other EU countries and German sovereign bonds retain their “safe haven” status.
Listed companies and market participants in Germany must comply with the Securities Trading Act, which bans insider trading and market manipulation. Compliance is monitored by the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) while oversight of stock exchanges is the responsibility of the state governments in Germany (with BaFin taking on any international responsibility). Investment fund management in Germany is regulated by the Capital Investment Code (KAGB), which entered into force on July 22, 2013. The KAGB represents the implementation of additional financial market regulatory reforms, committed to in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The law went beyond the minimum requirements of the relevant EU directives and represents a comprehensive overhaul of all existing investment-related regulations in Germany with the aim of creating a system of rules to protect investors while also maintaining systemic financial stability.
Money and Banking System
Although corporate financing via capital markets is on the rise, Germany’s financial system remains mostly bank-based. Bank loans are still the predominant form of funding for firms, particularly the small- and medium-sized enterprises that comprise Germany’s “Mittelstand,” or mid-sized industrial market leaders. Credit is available at market-determined rates to both domestic and foreign investors, and a variety of credit instruments are available. Legal, regulatory and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international banking norms. Germany has a universal banking system regulated by federal authorities, and there have been no reports of a shortage of credit in the German economy. After 2010, Germany banned some forms of speculative trading, most importantly “naked short selling.” In 2013, Germany passed a law requiring banks to separate riskier activities such as proprietary trading into a legally separate, fully capitalized unit that has no guarantee or access to financing from the deposit-taking part of the bank. Since the creation of the European single supervisory mechanism (SSM) in November 2014, the European Central Bank directly supervises 21 banks located in Germany (as of March 2020) among them four subsidiaries of foreign banks.
Germany supports a global financial transaction tax and is pursuing the introduction of such a tax along with other EU member states.
Germany has a modern and open banking sector that is characterized by a highly diversified and decentralized, small-scale structure. As a result, it is extremely competitive, profit margins notably in the retail sector are low and the banking sector considered “over-banked” and in need of consolidation. The country’s “three-pillar” banking system consists of private commercial banks, cooperative banks, and public banks (savings banks/Sparkassen and the regional state-owned banks/Landesbanken). This structure has remained unchanged despite marked consolidation within each “pillar” since the financial crisis in 2008/9. The number of state banks (Landesbanken) dropped from 12 to 5, that of savings banks from 446 in 2007 to 380 at the end of 2019 and the number of cooperative banks has dropped from 1,234 to 842. Two of the five large private sector banks have exited the market (Dresdner, Postbank). The balance sheet total of German banks dropped from 304 percent of GDP in 2007 to 242 percent by the end of 2019. Market shares in corporate finance of the banking groups remained largely unchanged (all figures for end of 2019): Credit institutions 27 percent (domestic 17 percent, foreign banks 10 percent), savings banks 31 percent, state banks 10 percent, credit cooperative banks 21 percent, promotional banks 6 percent.
The private bank sector is dominated by globally active banks Deutsche Bank (Germany’s largest bank by balance sheet total) and Commerzbank (fourth largest bank), with balance sheets of €1.3 trillion and €466.6 billion respectively (2019 figures). Commerzbank received €18 billion in financial assistance from the federal government in 2009, for which the government took a 25 percent stake in the bank (now reduced to 15.6 percent). Merger talks between Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank failed in 2019. The second largest of the top ten German banks is DZ Bank, the central institution of the Cooperative Finance Group (after its merge with WGZBank in July 2016), followed by German branches of large international banks (UniCredit Bank or HVB, ING-Diba), development banks (KfW Group, NRW.Bank), and state banks (LBBW, Bayern LB, Helaba, NordLB).
German banks’ profitability continued to deteriorate in the years prior to the COVID-19 crisis due to the prevailing low and negative interest rate environment that narrowed margins on new loans irrespective of debtors’ credit worthiness, poor trading results and new competitors from the fintech sector , and low cost efficiency. In 2018 according to the latest data by the Deutsche Bundesbank (Germany’s central bank), German credit institutions reported a pre-tax profit of €18.9 billion or 0.23 percent of total assets. Their net interest income remained below its long-term average to €87.2 billion despite dynamic credit growth (19 percent since end-2014 until end of 2019 in retail and 23 percent in corporate loans) on ongoing cost-reduction efforts. Thanks to continued favorable domestic economic conditions, their risk provisioning has been at an all time low. Their average return on equity before tax in 2018 slipped to 3.74 percent (after tax: 2.4 percent) (with savings banks generating a higher return and big banks a lower and Landesbanken a –2.45 percent return). Both return on equity and return on assets were at their lowest level since 2010. Brexit saw banking activities relocated from the United Kingdom to the EU, with many foreign banks (notably US and Japanese banks) choosing Frankfurt as their new EU headquarters. Their Core Tier 1 equity capital ratios improved as did their liquidity ratios, but no German large bank has been able to organically raise its capital for the past decade.
It remains unclear how the current COVID-19 crisis will affect the German banking sector. Prior to the pandemic, the bleaker German economic outlook prompted a greater need for value adjustment and write-downs in lending business. German banks’ ratio of non-performing loans was low going into the crisis (1.24 percent). In March 2020, the German government provided large-scale asset guarantees to banks (in certain instances covering 100 percent of the credit risk) via the German government owned KfW bank to avoid a credit crunch.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
As a member of the Eurozone, Germany uses the euro as its currency, along with 18 other EU countries. The Eurozone has no restrictions on the transfer or conversion of its currency, and the exchange rate is freely determined in the foreign exchange market.
The Deutsche Bundesbank is the independent central bank of the Federal Republic of Germany. It has been a part of the Eurosystem since 1999, sharing responsibility with the other national central banks and the European Central Bank (ECB) for the single currency, and thus has no scope to manipulate the bloc’s exchange rate. In a February 2020 report, the European Commission (EC) concluded Germany’s persistently high current account surplus – the world’s largest in 2019 at USD 293 billion (7.7 percent of GDP) – has again slightly increased despite a gradual decline between 2015 and 2018. While low commodity prices and the weak euro exchange rate explain some of the surplus’ increase in 2015-2016, the persistence of Germany’s surplus is a matter of international controversy. German policymakers view the large surplus as the result of market forces rather than active government policies, while the EC and IMF have called on authorities to rebalance towards domestic sources of economic growth by expanding public investment, using available fiscal space, and other policy choices that boost domestic demand.
Germany is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is committed to further strengthening its national system for the prevention, detection and suppression of money laundering and terrorist financing. Federal law is enforced by regional state prosecutors. Investigations are conducted by the Federal and State Offices of Criminal Investigations (BKA/LKA). The administrative authority for imposing anti-money laundering requirements on financial institutions is the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin).
The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is the national central authority for receiving, collecting and analyzing reports of suspicious financial transactions that may be related to money laundering or terrorist financing. It was founded in 2001 and initially located at the Federal Criminal Investigation Office. In 2017, it was transferred to the General Customs Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Finance and given more staff. At the same time, its tasks and competencies were redefined taking into account the provisions of the Fourth EU Money Laundering Directive. One focus is now on operational and strategic analysis. On January 1, 2020, legislation to implement the Fifth EU Money Laundering Directive and the European Funds Transfers Regulation (Geldtransfer-Verordnung) entered into force. The Act amends the German Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz – GwG) and a number of further laws. It provides, inter alia, the FIU and prosecutors with expanded access to data. In its annual report 2018, the FIU noted an “extreme vulnerability” in Germany’s real estate market to money laundering activities. In total, the FIU found 77,252 cases of money laundering in Germany in 2018, about 3,800 involving the real estate sector. Transparency International found that about €30 billion in illicit funds were funneled into German real estate in 2017. However, the FIU itself has come under criticism. Financial institutions deplore the quality of its staff and the effectiveness of its work. It will be subject to a FATF review in 2020.
There is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange.
There are no restrictions or delays on investment remittances or the inflow or outflow of profits.
Germany is the fifth-largest remittance-sending country worldwide. Migrants in Germany posted USD 25.4 billion (0.6 percent of GDP) abroad in 2018 (World Bank, Bilateral Remittances Matrix 2018). The most important receiving states for remittances from Germany are EU neighbors such as France, Poland, and Italy. Around USD 8 billion was sent to developing countries, out of which Lebanon, Vietnam, China, Nigeria and Serbia were the biggest receivers. Remittance flows into Germany amounted to around USD 18 billion in 2018, approximately 0.5 percent of Germany’s GDP.
The issue of remittances played a role during the German G20 Presidency in 2017. During its presidency, Germany passed an updated version of its “G20 National Remittance Plan.” The document states that Germany’s focus will remain on “consumer protection, linking remittances to financial inclusion, creating enabling regulatory frameworks and generating research and data on diaspora and remittances dynamics.” The 2017 “G20 National Remittance Plan” can be found at https://www.gpfi.org/publications/2017-g20-national-remittance-plans-overview
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The German government does not currently have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
In December 2016, the Federal Government passed the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP). The action plan aims to apply the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights for the activities of German companies nationally as well as globally in their value and supply chains. The 2018 coalition agreement for the 19th legislative period between the governing Christian Democratic parties, CDU/CSU, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) states its commitment to the action plan, including the principles on public procurement. It further states that, if the NAP 2020’s effective and comprehensive review comes to the conclusion that the voluntary due diligence approach of enterprises is insufficient, the government will initiate legislation for an EU-wide regulation. The government is currently reviewing and evaluating the German companies’ voluntary due-diligence efforts to ensure their operations do not impinge upon human rights.
Germany adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; the National Contact Point (NCP) is housed in the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. The NCP is supported by an advisory board composed of several ministries, business organizations, trade unions, and NGOs. This working group usually meets once a year to discuss all Guidelines-related issues. The German NCP can be contacted through the Ministry’s website: https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Textsammlungen/Foreign-Trade/national-contact-point-ncp.html .
There is general awareness of environmental, social, and governance issues among both producers and consumers in Germany, and surveys suggest that consumers increasingly care about the ecological and social impacts of the products they purchase. In order to encourage businesses to factor environmental, social, and governance impacts into their decision-making, the government provides information online and in hard copy. The federal government encourages corporate social responsibility (CSR) through awards and prizes, business fairs, and reports and newsletters. The government also organizes so called “sector dialogues” to connect companies and facilitate the exchange of best practices, and offers practice days to help nationally as well as internationally operating small- and medium-sized companies discern and implement their entrepreneurial due diligence under the NAP. To this end it has created a website on CSR in Germany (http://www.csr-in-deutschland.de/EN/Home/home.html in English). The German government maintains and enforces domestic laws with respect to labor and employment rights, consumer protections, and environmental protections. The German government does not waive labor and environmental laws to attract investment.
On the business side, the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany (AmCham Germany) is active in promoting standards of ecological, economic, and social responsibility and sustainability within their members’ entrepreneurial actions in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015. AmCham Germany issues publications on selected member companies’ approaches to CSR. Its Corporate Responsibility Committee serves as a platform to exchange best practices, identify trends, and discuss regulatory initiatives. Other business initiatives, platforms, and networks on sustainable corporate conduct and CSR exist. In addition, Germany’s four leading business organizations regularly provide information on a common CSR internet portal to promote and illustrate companies’ engagement on CSR: www.csrgermany.de.
Social reporting is voluntary, but publicly listed companies frequently include information on their CSR policies in annual shareholder reports and on their websites.
Civil society groups that work on CSR include 3p Consortium for Sustainable Management, Amnesty International Germany, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e. V. (BUND), CorA Corporate Accountability – Netzwerk Unternehmensverantwortung, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Germanwatch, Greenpeace Germany, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Sneep (Studentisches Netzwerk zu Wirtschafts- und Unternehmensethik), Stiftung Warentest, Südwind – Institut für Ökonomie und Ökumene, TransFair – Verein zur Förderung des Fairen Handels mit der „Dritten Welt“ e. V., Transparency International, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V., Bundesverband Die Verbraucher Initiative e.V., and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, known as the „World Wildlife Fund“ in the United States).
Among industrialized countries, Germany ranks 9th out of 180, according to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. Some sectors including the automotive industry, construction sector, and public contracting, exhibit political influence and party finance remains only partially transparent. Nevertheless, U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an impediment to investment in Germany. Germany is a signatory of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.
Over the last two decades, Germany has increased penalties for the bribery of German officials, corrupt practices between companies, and price-fixing by companies competing for public contracts. It has also strengthened anti-corruption provisions on financial support extended by the official export credit agency and has tightened the rules for public tenders. Government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts linked to their jobs. Most state governments and local authorities have contact points for whistle-blowing and provisions for rotating personnel in areas prone to corruption. There are serious penalties for bribing officials and price fixing by companies competing for public contracts.
According to the Federal Criminal Office, in 2018, 73 percent of all corruption cases were directed towards the public administration (up from 63 percent in 2017), 18 percent towards the business sector (down from 22 percent in 2017), 7 percent towards law enforcement and judicial authorities (down from 12 percent in 2017), and 2 percent to political officials (down from 3 percent in 2017).
Parliamentarians are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish earnings from outside employment. Disclosures are available to the public via the Bundestag website (next to the parliamentarians’ biographies) and in the Official Handbook of the Bundestag. Penalties for noncompliance can range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary.
Donations by private persons or entities to political parties are legally permitted. However, if they exceed €50,000, they must be reported to the President of the Bundestag, who is required to immediately publish the name of the party, the amount of the donation, the name of the donor, the date of the donation, and the date the recipient reported the donation. Donations of €10,000 or more must be included in the party’s annual accountability report to the President of the Bundestag.
State prosecutors are generally responsible for investigating corruption cases, but not all state governments have prosecutors specializing in corruption. Germany has successfully prosecuted hundreds of domestic corruption cases over the years, including large scale cases against major companies.
Media reports in recent years about bribery investigations against Siemens, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Bank, and Ferrostaal have increased awareness of the problem of corruption. As a result, listed companies and multinationals have expanded compliance departments, tightened internal codes of conduct, and offered more training to employees.
The Federation of Germany Industries (BDI), the Association of German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) provide guidelines in paper and electronic format on how to prevent corruption in an effort to convince all including small- and medium- sized companies to catch up.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
Germany was a signatory to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention in 2003. The Bundestag ratified the Convention in November 2014.
Germany adheres to and actively enforces the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention which criminalizes bribery of foreign public officials by German citizens and firms. The necessary tax reform legislation ending the tax write-off for bribes in Germany and abroad became law in 1999.
Germany participates in the relevant EU anti-corruption measures and signed two EU conventions against corruption. However, while Germany ratified the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 2017, it has not yet ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption.
Resources to Report Corruption
There is no central government anti-corruption agency in Germany.
Contact at “watchdog” organization:
Hartmut Bäumer, Chair
Transparency International Germany
Alte Schönhauser Str. 44, 10119 Berlin
+49 30 549 898 0
The Federal Criminal Office publishes an annual report: “Bundeslagebild Korruption” – the latest one covers 2018.
10. Political and Security Environment
Political acts of violence against either foreign or domestic business enterprises are extremely rare. Isolated cases of violence directed at certain minorities and asylum seekers have not targeted U.S. investments or investors.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The German labor force is generally highly skilled, well-educated, and productive. Before the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, employment in Germany had risen for the thirteenth consecutive year and reached an all-time high of 45.3 million in 2019, an increase of 402,000 (or 0.9 percent) from 2018—the highest level since German reunification in 1990.
Simultaneously, unemployment had fallen by more than half since 2005, and reached in 2019 the lowest average annual value since German reunification. In 2019, around 2.34 million people were registered as unemployed, corresponding to an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, according to the Germany Federal Employment Agency. Using internationally comparable data from the European Union’s statistical office Eurostat, Germany had an average annual unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in 2019, the second lowest rate in the European Union. All employees are by law covered by the federal unemployment insurance that compensates for the lack of income for up to 24 months. Long-term effects on the labor market, and the economy as a whole, due to COVID-19 are not yet fully conceivable. However, as of April 2020, the number of unemployed had increased to 2.64 million (a 5.8% unemployment rate). A government-funded temporary furlough program allows companies to decrease its workforce and labor costs with layoffs and has helped mitigate a negative labor market impact in the short term.
Germany’s national youth unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in 2019, the lowest in the EU. The German vocational training system has gained international interest as a key contributor to Germany’s highly skilled workforce and its sustainably low youth unemployment rate. Germany’s so-called “dual vocational training,” a combination of theoretical courses taught at schools and practical application in the workplace, teaches and develops many of the skills employers need. Each year, there are more than 500,000 apprenticeship positions available in more than 340 recognized training professions, in all sectors of the economy and public administration. Approximately 50 percent of students choose to start an apprenticeship. The government is promoting apprenticeship opportunities, in partnership with industry, through the “National Pact to Promote Training and Young Skilled Workers.”
An element of growing concern for German business is the aging and shrinking of the population, which (absent large-scale immigration) will likely result in labor shortages. Official forecasts at the behest of the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs predict that the current working age population will shrink by almost 3 million between 2010 and 2030, resulting in an overall shortage of workforce and skilled labor. Labor bottlenecks already constrain activity in many industries, occupations, and regions. According to the Federal Employment Agency, doctors; medical and geriatric nurses; mechanical, automotive, and electrical engineers; and IT professionals are in particular short supply. The government has begun to enhance its efforts to ensure an adequate labor supply by improving programs to integrate women, elderly, young people, and foreign nationals into the labor market. The government has also facilitated the immigration of qualified workers.
Germans consider the cooperation between labor unions and employer associations to be a fundamental principle of their social market economy and believe this has contributed to the country’s resilience during the economic and financial crisis. Insofar as job security for members is a core objective for German labor unions, unions often show restraint in collective bargaining in weak economic times and often can negotiate higher wages in strong economic conditions. According to the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), the number of workdays lost to labor actions increased significantly to 1 million in 2018, compared to 238,000 in 2017. WSI assesses this unusual increase was mostly due to the labor conflict in the machinery sector, which resulted in a large number of warning strikes at various companies and plants. However, in an international comparison, Germany is in the lower midrange with regards to strike numbers and intensity. All workers have the right to strike, except for civil servants (including teachers and police) and staff in sensitive or essential positions, such as members of the armed forces.
Germany’s constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations contain provisions designed to protect the right of employees to form and join independent unions of their choice. The overwhelming majority of unionized workers are members of one of the eight largest unions — largely grouped by industry or service sector — which are affiliates of the German Trade Union Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB). Several smaller unions exist outside the DGB. Overall trade union membership has, however, been in decline over the last several years. In 2016, about 18.5 percent of the workforce belonged to unions. Since peaking at around 12 million members shortly after German reunification, total DGB union membership has dropped to about 6 million, IG Metall being the largest German labor union with 2.27 million members, followed by the influential service sector union Ver.di (1.97 million members).
The constitution and enabling legislation protect the right to collective bargaining, and agreements are legally binding to the parties. In 2018, over three quarters (78 percent) of non-self-employed workers were directly or indirectly covered by a collective wage agreement, 59 percent of the labor force in the western part of the country and approximately 47 percent in the East. On average, collective bargaining agreements in Germany were valid for 25 months in 2017.
By law, workers can elect a works council in any private company employing at least five people. The rights of the works council include the right to be informed, to be consulted, and to participate in company decisions. Works councils often help labor and management to settle problems before they become disputes and disrupt work. In addition, “co-determination” laws give the workforce in medium-sized or large companies (corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships limited by shares, co-operatives, and mutual insurance companies) significant voting representation on the firms’ supervisory boards. This co-determination in the supervisory board extends to all company activities.
From 2010 to 2019, real wages grew by 1.2 percent on average. Generous collective bargaining wage increases in 2019 (+3.2 percent) and the increase of the federal Germany-wide statutory minimum wage to €9.35 (USD 10.15) on January 1, 2020, led to 2.6 percent nominal wage increase. Real wages grew by 1.2 percent in 2019.
Labor costs increased by 2.3 percent in 2018. With an average labor cost of €35 (USD 43) per hour, Germany ranked sixth among the 28 EU-members states (EU average: €26.80/USD 33.20) in 2018.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
|Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2019||€3,435,800||2018||$3,948,000||www.worldbank.org/en/country|
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2018||€81,988||2018||$140,331||BEA data available at
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||2018||€247,508||2018||$324,151||BEA data available at
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||2018||23.0%||2018||23.5%||UNCTAD data available at
* Source for Host Country Data: Federal Statistical Office DESTATIS, Bundesbank; http://www.bundesbank.de (German Central Bank, 2018 data published in April 2020, only available in €)
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$939,189||100%||Total Outward||$$1,643,698||100%|
|The Netherlands||$178,045||19.0%||United States||$299,328||18.2%|
|United States||$105,714||11.3%||The Netherlands||$165,686||10.1%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$3,609,694||100%||All Countries||$1,304,519||100%||All Countries||$2,305,175||100%|
|France||$447,458||12.4%||United States||$178,181||13.7%||United States||$260,562||11.3%|
|United States||$438,743||12.2%||Ireland||$136,831||10.5%||The Netherlands||$255,640||11.1%|
|The Netherlands||$300,669||8.3%||France||$101,198||7.8%||United Kingdom||$155,759||6.8%|