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France and Monaco

Executive Summary

France welcomes foreign investment and has a stable business climate that attracts investors from around the world. The French government devotes significant resources to attracting foreign investment through policy incentives, marketing, overseas trade promotion offices, and investor support mechanisms. France has an educated population, first-rate universities, and a talented workforce. It has a modern business culture, sophisticated financial markets, a strong intellectual property rights regime, and innovative business leaders. The country is known for its world-class infrastructure, including high-speed passenger rail, maritime ports, extensive roadway networks, public transportation, and efficient intermodal connections. High-speed (3G/4G) telephony is nearly ubiquitous.

In 2019, the United States was the leading foreign investor in France with a stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) totaling over $87 billion. More than 4,500 U.S. firms operate in France, supporting nearly 500,000 jobs. The United States exported $59.6 billion of goods and services to France in 2019.

Following the election of French President Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, the French government implemented significant labor market and tax reforms. By relaxing the rules on companies to hire and fire employees and by offering investment incentives, Macron has buoyed ease of doing business in France. However, Macron will likely delay or abandon the second phase of his envisioned reforms for unemployment benefits and pensions due to more pressing concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Business France, the government investment promotion agency, recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses that are considering investments in the French market (https://www.businessfrance.fr/en/invest-in-France).

Recent reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. France implemented the European Competition Network or ECN Directive on April 11, 2019, allowing the French Competition Authority to impose heftier fines (above €3 million / $3.3 million) and temporary measures to prevent an infringement that may cause harm.

On December 31, 2019 the government issued a national security decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.

Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includesloweringfrom 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.

In 2019 France passed a digital services tax. The 2019 tax law reduces corporate tax on profits over €500,000 ($550,000) to 31 percent for 2019, 28 percent in 2020, 26.5 percent in 2021 and 25 percent in 2022.

In 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on France’s macroeconomic outlook will be severe. GDP shrank 5.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter, the sharpest economic contraction since 1949. France’s official statistical agency INSEE attributed this fall to the government’s restrictions on economic activity due to the pandemic. However, the GDP figure incorporates only two weeks of France’s confinement, which began March 17, leading economists to predict that second quarter figures will be significantly worse. The Q1 figure marks the second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, after shrinking 0.1 percent in Q4 of 2019, meaning France has officially fallen into a technical recession. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced in April 2020 that he expects economic activity to decline by 8 percent in 2020, the public deficit to increase to 9 percent of GDP, and debt to rise to 115 percent of GDP.

In response to the economic impact of the pandemic, the government launched a €410 billion ($447 billion) emergency fiscal package in March 2020. The bulk of the package aims to support businesses through loan guarantees and deferrals on tax and social security payments. The remainder is allocated to stabilizing households and demand, largely through its €24 billion ($26 billion) temporary unemployment scheme that allows workers to stay home while continuing to collect a portion of their wages.

Although France’s emergency fund is sizeable at 16 percent of GDP, it is not sufficient to fully absorb the economic impact of the pandemic. Key issues to watch in 2020 include: 1) the degree to which COVID-19 continues to agitate the macroeconomic environment; and 2) the size and scope of recovery measures, including additional fiscal support from the government of France, a broader EU rescue package, and the monetary response from the European Central Bank.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings  
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 23 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 32 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 16 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 86,863 http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 41,080 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

France welcomes foreign investment. In the current economic climate, the French government sees foreign investment as a means to create additional jobs and stimulate growth. Investment regulations are simple, and a range of financial incentives are available to foreign investors, who report they find France’s skilled and productive labor force, good infrastructure, technology, and central location in Europe attractive. France’s membership in the European Union (EU) and the Eurozone facilitates the efficient movement of people, services, capital, and goods. However, notwithstanding French efforts at economic and tax reform, market liberalization, and attracting foreign investment, perceived disincentives to investing in France include the relatively high tax environment. Labor market fluidity is improving due to labor market reforms but is still rigid compared to some OECD economies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

France is among the least restrictive countries for foreign investment. With a few exceptions in certain specified sectors, there are no statutory limits on foreign ownership of companies. Foreign entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

France maintains a national security review mechanism to screen high-risk investments. French law stipulates that control by acquisition of a domiciled company or subsidiary operating in certain sectors deemed crucial to France’s national interests relating to public order, public security and national defense are subject to prior notification, review, and approval by the Economy and Finance Minister. Other sectors requiring approval include energy infrastructure; transportation networks; public water supplies; electronic communication networks; public health protection; and installations vital to national security. In 2018, four additional categories – semiconductors, data storage, artificial intelligence and robotics – were added to the list requiring a national security review. For all listed sectors, France can block foreign takeovers of French companies according to the provisions of the Montebourg Decree.

On December 31, 2019 the government issued a decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.

Procedurally, the Minister of Economy and Finance has 30 business days following the receipt of a request for authorization to either: 1) declare that the investor is not required to obtain such authorization; 2) grant its authorization without conditions; or 3) declare that an additional review is required to determine whether a conditional authorization is sufficient to protect national interests. If an additional review is required, the Minister has an additional 45 business days to either clear the transaction (possibly subject to conditions) or prohibit it. The Minister is further allowed to deny clearance based on the investor’s ties with a foreign government or public authority. The absence of a decision within the applicable timeframe is a de facto rejection of the authorization.

The government has also expanded the breadth of information required in the approval request. For example, a foreign investor must now disclose any financial relationship with or significant financial support from a State or public entity; a list of French and foreign competitors of the investor and of the target; or a signed statement that the investor has not, over the past five years, been subject to any sanctions for non-compliance with French FDI regulations.

Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includes lowering from 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

France has not recently been the subject of international organizations’ investment policy reviews. The OECD Economic Survey for France (April 2019) can be found here: http://www.oecd.org/economy/france-economic-forecast-summary.htm .

Business Facilitation

Business France is a government agency established with the purpose of promoting new foreign investment, expansion, technology partnerships, and financial investment. Business France provides services to help investors understand regulatory, tax, and employment policies as well as state and local investment incentives and government support programs. Business France also helps companies find project financing and equity capital. Business France recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses that are considering investments in the French market (https://www.businessfrance.fr/en/invest-in-France ).

In addition, France’s public investment bank, Bpifrance, assists foreign businesses to find local investors when setting up a subsidiary in France. It also supports foreign startups in France through the government’s French Tech Ticket program, which provides them with funding, a resident’s permit, and incubation facilities. Both business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and minorities.

President Macron has made innovation one of his priorities with a €10 billion ($11 billion) fund that is being financed through privatizations of State-owned enterprises. France’s priority sectors for investment include:  aeronautics, agro-foods, digital, nuclear, rail, auto, chemicals and materials, forestry, eco-industries, shipbuilding, health, luxury, and extractive industries. In the near-term, the French government intends to focus on driverless vehicles, batteries, the high-speed train of the future, nano-electronics, renewable energy, and health industries.

Business France and Bpifrance are particularly interested in attracting foreign investment in the tech sector. The French government has developed the “French Tech” initiative to promote France as a location for start-ups and high-growth digital companies. In addition to 17 French cities, French Tech offices have been established in 100 cities around the world, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Moscow, and Berlin. French Tech has special programs to provide support to startups at various stages of their development. The latest effort has been the creation of the French Tech 120 Program, which provides financial and administrative support to some 123 most promising tech companies. In 2019, €5 billion ($5.5 billion) in venture funding was raised by French startups, an increase of nearly threefold since 2015. In September 2019, President Emmanuel Macron convinced major asset managers such as AXA and Natixis to invest €5 billion ($5.5 billion) into French tech companies over the next three years. He also announced the creation of a listing of France’s top 40 startups “Next 40” with the highest potential to grow into unicorns.

The website Guichet Enterprises (https://www.guichet-entreprises.fr/fr/ ) is designed to be a one-stop website for registering a business. The site is available in both French and English although some fact sheets on regulated industries are only available in French on the website.

Outward Investment

French firms invest more in the United States than in any other country and support approximately 728,500 American jobs. Total French investment in the United States reached $326.4 billion in 2018. France was our ninth largest trading partner with approximately $136 billion in bilateral trade in 2019. The business promotion agency Business France also assists French firms with outward investment, which it does not restrict.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The French government has made considerable progress in the last decade on the transparency and accessibility of its regulatory system.  The government generally engages in industry and public consultation before drafting legislation or rulemaking through a regular but variable process directed by the relevant ministry.  However, the text of draft legislation is not always publicly available before parliamentary approval.  U.S. firms may also find it useful to become members of industry associations, which can play an influential role in developing government policies.  Even “observer” status can offer insight into new investment opportunities and greater access to government-sponsored projects.

To increase transparency in the legislative process, all ministries are required to attach an impact assessment to their draft bills.  The Prime Minister’s Secretariat General (SGG for Secretariat General du Gouvernement) is responsible for ensuring that impact studies are undertaken in the early stages of the drafting process.  The State Council (Conseil d’Etat), which must be consulted on all draft laws and regulations, may reject a draft bill if the impact assessment is inadequate.

After experimenting with new online consultations, the Macron Administration is regularly using this means to achieve consensus on its major reform bills.  These consultations are often open to professionals as well as citizens at large.  Another Macron innovation is to impose regular impact assessments after a bill has been implemented to ensure its maximum efficiency, revising, as necessary, provisions that do not work in favor of those that do.  Finally, the Macron Administration aims to make all regulations and laws available online by 2022.

Over past decades, major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority.  On April 11, 2019, France implemented the European Competition Network (ECN) Directive, which widens the powers of all European national competition authorities to impose larger fines and temporary measures. The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position.  It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance, and government ministers, companies, consumer organizations, and trade associations now have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices.  While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.

France’s budget documents are comprehensive and cover all expenditures of the central government.  An annex to the budget also provides estimates of cost sharing contributions, though these are not included in the budget estimates.  In its spring report each year, the National Economic Commission outlines the deficits for the two previous years, the current year, and the year ahead, including consolidated figures on taxes, debt, and expenditures.  Since 1999, the budget accounts have also included contingent liabilities from government guarantees and pension liabilities.  The government publishes its debt data promptly on the French Treasury’s website and in other documents.  Data on nonnegotiable debt is available 15 days after the end of the month, and data on negotiable debt is available 35 days after the end of the month.  Annual data on debt guaranteed by the state is published in summary in the CGAF Report and in detail in the Compte de la dette publique.  More information can be found at: https://www.imf.org/external/np/rosc/fra/fiscal.htm 

International Regulatory Considerations

France is a founding member of the European Union, created in 1957.  As such, France incorporates EU laws and regulatory norms into its domestic law.  France has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995 and a member of GATT since 1948.  While developing new draft regulations, the French government submits a copy to the WTO for review to ensure the prospective legislation is consistent with its WTO obligations.  France ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in October 2015 and has implemented all of its TFA commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

French law is codified into what is sometimes referred to as the Napoleonic Code, but is officially the Code Civil des Francais, or French Civil Code.  Private law governs interactions between individuals (e.g., civil, commercial, and employment law) and public law governs the relationship between the government and the people (e.g., criminal, administrative, and constitutional law).

France has an administrative court system to challenge a decision by local governments and the national government; the State Council (Conseil d’Etat) is the appellate court.  France enforces foreign legal decisions such as judgments, rulings, and arbitral awards through the procedure of exequatur introduced before the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI), which is the court of original jurisdiction in the French legal system.

France’s Commercial Tribunal (Tribunal de Commerce or TDC) specializes in commercial litigation.  Magistrates of the commercial tribunals are lay judges, who are well known in the business community and have experience in the sectors they represent.  Decisions by the commercial courts can be appealed before the Court of Appeals. France’s judicial system is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable and is independent of the government.

The judiciary – although its members are state employees – is independent of the executive branch.  The judicial process in France is known to be competent, fair, thorough, and time-consuming.  There is a right of appeal.  The Appellate Court (cour d’appel) re-examines judgments rendered in civil, commercial, employment or criminal law cases.  It re-examines the legal basis of judgments, checking for errors in due process and reexamines case facts.  It may either confirm or set aside the judgment of the lower court, in whole or in part. Decisions of the Appellate Court may be appealed to the Highest Court in France (cour de cassation).

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all sorts of remunerative activities.  U.S. investment in France is subject to the provisions of the Convention of Establishment between the United States of America and France, which was signed in 1959 and remains in force.  The rights it provides U.S. nationals and companies include:  rights equivalent to those of French nationals in all commercial activities (excluding communications, air transportation, water transportation, banking, the exploitation of natural resources, the production of electricity, and professions of a scientific, literary, artistic, and educational nature, as well as certain regulated professions like doctors and lawyers).  Treatment equivalent to that of French or third-country nationals is provided with respect to transfer of funds between France and the United States.  Property is protected from expropriation except for public purposes; in that case it is accompanied by payment that is just, realizable and prompt.

Potential investors can find relevant investment information and links to laws and investment regulations at http://www.businessfrance.fr/ .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority.  France implemented the European Competition Network or ECN Directive on April 11, 2019, allowing the French Competition Authority to impose heftier fines (above €3 million / $3.3 million) and temporary measures to prevent an infringement that may cause harm.  The Authority issues decisions and opinions mostly on antitrust issues, but its influence on competition issues is growing.  For example, following a complaint in November 2019 by several French, European, and international associations of press publishers against Google over the use of their content online without compensation, the Authority ordered the U.S. company to start negotiating in good faith with news publishers over the use of their content online.  On December 20, 2019, Google was fined €150 million ($162 million) for abuse of dominant position.  Following an in-depth review of the online ad sector, the Competition Authority found Google Ads to be “opaque and difficult to understand” and applied in “an unfair and random manner.”

The Competition Authority launches regular in-depth investigations into various sectors of the economy, which may lead to formal investigations and fines. The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position.  It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance.  Government ministers, companies, consumer organizations and trade associations have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices.  While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.

A new law on Economic Growth, Activity and Equal Opportunities (known as the “Macron Law”), adopted in August 2016, vested the Competition Authority with the power to review mergers and alliances between retailers ex-ante (beforehand).  The law provides that all contracts binding a retail business to a distribution network shall expire at the same time.  This enables the retailer to switch to another distribution network more easily.  Furthermore, distributors are prohibited from restricting a retailer’s commercial activity via post-contract terms.  The civil fine incurred for restrictive practices can now amount to up to five percent of the business’s revenue earned in France

Expropriation and Compensation

In accordance with international law, the national or local governments cannot legally expropriate property to build public infrastructure without fair market compensation. There have been no expropriations of note during the reporting period.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

France is a member of the World Bank-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and a signatory to the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) which means local courts are obligated to enforce international arbitral awards under this system. The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICA) has been based in Paris since 1923.

France was one of the first countries to enact a modern arbitration law in 1980-1981. In 2011, the French Ministry of Justice issued Decree 2011-48, which introduced further international best practices into French arbitration procedural law. As a result, parties are free to agree orally to settle their disputes through arbitration, subject to standards of due process and a newly enacted principle of procedural efficiency and fairness.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The President of the Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Civil Court of First Instance) of Paris has the authority to issue orders related to ad-hoc international arbitration. Paris is the seat of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration, composed of representatives from 90 countries, that handles investment as well as commercial disputes.

France does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.   The European Commission directly negotiates on behalf of the EU on foreign direct investment since it is part of the EU Common Commercial Policy.  In 2015, the EU agreed to pursue an investment court approach to investor-State dispute settlement.  While this model is included in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada and the EU-Vietnam FTA, no actual court has yet been established in any form or context; no disputes have been brought under these post-2015 treaties.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

French law provides conditions for the recognition and the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in relation to the New York Convention.  The provisions of French law are contained in the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Civil Enforcement Procedures.  The French Civil Code envisions several mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) including out-of-court arbitration and conciliation where a judicial conciliator puts an end to a dispute. France is a member of UNCITRAL.  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards as mentioned above.  The recognition of judgments of foreign courts by French courts is possible, but judgements must be accompanied by the issuance of an exequatur – a legal document issued by a sovereign authority that permits the exercise or enforcement of a foreign judgement.

Bankruptcy Regulations

France has extensive and detailed bankruptcy laws and regulations.  Any creditor, regardless of the amount owed, may file suit in bankruptcy court against a debtor.  Foreign creditors, equity shareholders and foreign contract holders have the same rights as their French counterparts.  Monetary judgments by French courts on firms established in France are generally made in euros.  Not bankruptcy itself, but bankruptcy fraud – the misstatement by a debtor of his financial position in the context of a bankruptcy – is criminalized.  Under France’s bankruptcy code managers and other entities responsible for the bankruptcy of a French company are prevented from escaping liability by shielding their assets (Law 2012-346).  France has adopted a law that enables debtors to implement a restructuring plan with financial creditors only, without affecting trade creditors.  France’s Commercial Code incorporates European Directive 2014/59/EU establishing a framework for the recovery and resolution of claims on insolvent credit institutions and investment firms.  In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Index, France was ranked 28th of 190 on ease of resolving insolvency.

The Bank of France, the country’s only credit monitor, maintains files on persons having written unfunded checks, having declared bankruptcy, or having participated in fraudulent activities. Commercial credit reporting agencies do not exist in France.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

France offers financial incentives, generally equally available to both French and foreign investors.  The government provides incentives for capital investment in small companies. For instance, a French company or a subsidiary of a foreign firm that would invest in a minority shareholding (less than 20 percent) of a small, innovative SME would benefit from a five-year, linear amortization of their investment.  To qualify, SMEs must allocate at least 15 percent of their spending on research.

Incentivizing research and development (R&D) and innovation is a high priority for the French government.  Business France, the country’s export and investment promotion agency, reported that R&D operations accounted for 10 percent of foreign investment projects in 2018 and created or maintained 2,793 jobs, up 23 percent from the prior year.  The United States is the leading foreign investor in R&D in France, accounting for 26 percent of 2018 investment decisions. International companies may join France’s 71 innovation clusters, increasing access to both production inputs and technical benefits of geographical proximity. Other components of this policy include: the Innovative New Company (Jeune Enterprise Innovante) and the French Young Entrepreneurs Initiative.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government implemented an emergency fiscal package on March 24, 2020 totaling €410 billion ($447 billion), comprised of: 1) Loan guarantees: €300 billion ($330 billion); 2) Deferral of corporate tax and social security payments: €50 billion ($55 billion); 3) Partial unemployment scheme to avoid layoffs: €24 billion ($26 billion); 4) Recapitalizations, bailouts, or nationalizations if needed: €20 billion ($22 billion); 5) Solidarity Fund for very small companies, the self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs: €7 billion ($7.6 billion); 6) system of repayable advances of €500 million ($546 million) for SMEs to purchase inputs; 7) Late penalties cancelled for all State and local government procurement contracts.  The purpose of the emergency package is to fiscally absorb the economic impact of COVID-19.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

France is subject to all EU free trade zone regulations.  These allow member countries to designate portions of their customs’ territory as duty-free, where value-added activity is limited.  France has several duty-free zones, which benefit from exemptions on customs for storage of goods coming from outside of the European Union.  The French Customs Service administers them and provides details on its website (http://www.douane.gouv.fr ).  French legal texts are published online at http://legifrance.gouv.fr .

In September 2018, President Macron announced the extension of 44 Urban Free Zones (ZFU) in low-income neighborhoods and municipalities with at least 10,000 residents.  The program provides incentives for employers, who have created 600 new jobs since 2016.  Incentives include exemption from payment of payroll taxes and certain social contributions for five years, financed by €15 million  ($16.5 million) a year in State funds.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

While there are no mandatory performance requirements established by law, the French government will generally require commitments regarding employment or R&D from both foreign and domestic investors seeking government financial incentives.  Incentives like PAT regional planning grants (Prime d’Amenagement du Territoire pour l’Industrie et les Services) and related R&D subsidies are based on the number of jobs created, and authorities have occasionally sought commitments as part of the approval process for acquisitions by foreign investors.

The French government imposes the same conditions on domestic and foreign investors in cultural industries:  all purveyors of movies and television programs (i.e., television broadcasters, telecoms operators, internet service providers and video services) must contribute a percentage of their revenues toward French film and television productions.  They must also abide by broadcasting cultural content quotas (minimum 40 percent French, 20 percent EU).

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Real property rights are regulated by the French civil code and are uniformly enforced. The World Bank’s Doing Business Index ranks France 32nd of 190 on registering property. French civil-law notaries (notaires) – highly specialized lawyers in private practice appointed as public officers by the Justice Ministry – handle residential and commercial conveyance and registration, contract drafting, company formation, successions, and estate planning. The official system of land registration (cadastre) is maintained by the French public land registry under the auspices of the French tax authority (Direction Generale des Finances Publiques or DGFiP), available online at http://www.cadastre.gouv.fr . Mortgages are widely available, usually for a 15-year period.

Intellectual Property Rights

France is a strong defender of intellectual property rights (IPR).  Under the French system, patents and trademarks protect industrial property, while copyrights protect literary/artistic property. By virtue of the Paris Convention , U.S. nationals have a priority period following filing of an application for a U.S. patent or trademark in which to file a corresponding application in France:  twelve months for patents and six months for trademarks.

Counterfeiting is a costly problem for French companies, and the government of France maintains strong legal protections and a robust enforcement mechanism to combat trafficking in counterfeit goods — from copies of luxury goods to fake medications — as well as the theft and illegal use of IPR.  The French Intellectual Property Code has been updated repeatedly over the years to address this challenge, most recently in 2019 with the implementation of the so-called Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation or PACTE Law (“Plan d’Action pour la Croissance et la Transformation des Entreprises”).  This law reinforcing France’s anti-counterfeiting legislation and implements EU Directive 2015/2436 of the Trademark Reform Package.  It increases the Euro amount for damages to companies that are victims of counterfeiting and extends trademark protection to smartcard technology, certain geographic indications, plants, and agricultural seeds.  The new legislation also increases the statute of limitations for civil suits from three to ten years and strengthens the powers of customs officials to seize fake goods sent by mail or express freight.  France also adopted legislation in 2019 to implement EU Directive 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market.

The government also reports on seizures of counterfeit goods.  In 2018, French Customs seized 5.4 million counterfeited goods, down from 8.5 million counterfeited goods in 2017.  However, in 2019, seizures increased by 49 percent, according to the French Customs Office. Cigarettes represented 45 percent of all seized goods.  France’s top private sector anti-counterfeiting organization, UNIFAB, called on the government in 2018 to launch a national public awareness campaign.  The government has been working on a plan to improve the coordination between the Customs Office, which investigates fraud cases, and the National Institute of Industrial Property, which oversees patents, trademarks, and industrial design rights.

France has robust laws against online piracy.  A government agency called the High Authority for the Dissemination of Artistic Works and the Protection of Rights on Internet (Haute Autorite pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet – HADOPI) administers a “graduated response” system of warnings and fines.  It has taken enforcement action against several online pirate sites.  HADOPI cooperates closely with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) including pursuing voluntary arrangements that to single out awareness about intermediaries that facilitate or fund pirate sites. (Note that one of HADOPI’s tasks is to ensure that the technical measures used to protect works do not prevent the right of individuals to make personal copies of television programs for their private use.)  In December 2019, HADOPI released its yearly barometer of online cultural consumption showing that 26 percent of French people acquired and consumed music, films and television series through illegal sites (53 percent via streaming and 45 percent through direct or indirect download).  This figure has remained steady over the past few years.  Offenders risk fines of between €1,500 ($1,650) and €300,000 ($330,000) and/or up to three years imprisonment.

HADOPI was due to merge with France’s audiovisual watchdog CSA as part of a new draft law on audiovisual communication and cultural sovereignty in the digital age, tabled by the Minister of Culture in December 2019.  The reform was due in Parliament in March 2020 but was further delayed by the COVID-19 epidemic.

France does not appear on USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report.  USTR’s 2019 Notorious Market report continues to list France as host to illicit streaming and copyright infringement websites.  The 2019 report also listed amazon.fr, based in France, noting alleged high levels of counterfeit goods on its platform (Note:  Other Amazon sites were also included in the report: amazon.ca in Canada, amazon.de in Germany, amazon.in in India, and amazon.co.uk in the United Kingdom.)

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

There are no administrative restrictions on portfolio investment in France, and there is an effective regulatory system in place to facilitate portfolio investment.  France’s open financial market allows foreign firms easy access to a variety of financial products, both in France and internationally. France continues to modernize its marketplace; as markets expand, foreign and domestic portfolio investment has become increasingly important.  As in most EU countries, France’s listed companies are required to meet international accounting standards. Some aspects of French legal, regulatory, and accounting regimes are less transparent than U.S. systems, but they are consistent with international norms.  Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches and operations in France and are subject to international prudential measures.  Under IMF Article VIII, France may not impose restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for current international transactions without the (prior) approval of the Fund.

Foreign investors have access to all classic financing instruments, including short-, medium-, and long-term loans, short- and medium-term credit facilities, and secured and non-secured overdrafts offered by commercial banks.  These assist in public offerings of shares and corporate debt, as well as mergers, acquisitions and takeovers, and offer hedging services against interest rate and currency fluctuations.  Foreign companies have access to all banking services.  Most loans are provided at market rates, although subsidies are available for home mortgages and small business financing.

Euronext Paris (also known as Paris Bourse) is part of a regulated cross-border stock exchange located in six European countries.  Euronext Growth is an alternative exchange for medium-sized companies to list on a less regulated market (based on the legal definition of the European investment services directive), with more consumer protection than the Marché Libre still used by a couple hundred small businesses for their first stock listing.  A company seeking a listing on Euronext Growth must have a sponsor with status granted by Euronext and prepare a French language prospectus for a permit from the Autorite des Marchés Financiers (AMF or Financial Markets Authority), the French equivalent of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) may also list on Enternext, a subsidiary of the Euronext Group created in 2013.  The bourse in Paris also offers Euronext Access, an unregulated exchange for Start-ups.

Money and Banking System

France’s banking system recovered gradually from the 2008-2009 global financial crises and passed the 2018 stress tests conducted by the European Banking Authority.  The French banking sector is healthy.  Non-performing loans were 2.8 percent in France in October 2019, compared to  3.1 percent in the EU.

Four French banks were ranked among the world’s 20 largest in 2019 (BNP Paribas SA; Crédit Agricole Group, Société Générale SA, Groupe BPCE). The assets of France’s top 5 banks totaled USD 8.68 trillion in 2019.  Acting on a proposal from the Banque de France in March 2020, the High Council for Financial Stability (HCSF) instructed the country’s largest banks to decrease the “countercyclical capital buffer” from 0.25 percent to zero of their bank’s risk-weighted assets.  HCSF cited a “rise in tensions and volatility on the financial markets in the context of the development of the coronavirus pandemic.”

France’s central bank, the Banque de France, is a member of the Eurosystem, which groups together the European Central Bank (ECB) and the national central banks of all countries that have adopted the euro.  The Banque de France is a public entity governed by the French Monetary and Financial Code.  The conditions whereby it conducts its missions on national territory are set out in its Public Service Contract.  The three main missions are monetary strategy, financial stability together with the High Council of financial stability (Haut Conseil de la Stabilite Financiere) which implements macroprudential policy, and the provision of economic services to the community.  In addition, it participates in the preparation and implementation of decisions taken centrally by the ECB Governing Council.

Foreign banks can operate in France either as subsidiaries or branches but need to obtain a license.  Credit institutions’ licenses are generally issued by France’s Prudential Authority (ACPR – Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution) which reviews whether certain conditions are met (e.g. minimum capital requirement, sound and prudent management of the bank, compliance with balance sheet requirements, etc.).  Both EU law and French legislation apply to foreign banks.  Foreign banks or branches are additionally subject to prudential measures and must provide periodic reports to the ACPR regarding operations in France, including detailed reports on their financial situation. At the EU level, the ‘passporting right’ allows a foreign bank settled in any EU country to provide their services across the EU, including France.  There are about 1,031 credit institutions authorized to carry on banking activities in France; the list of foreign banks is available on this website: https://www.regafi.fr/spip.php?page=results&type=advanced&id_secteur=3&lang=en&denomination=&siren=&cib=&bic=&nom=&siren_agent=&num=&cat=01-TBR07&retrait=0 

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

France’s investment remittance policies are stable and transparent.  All inward and outward payments must be made through approved banking intermediaries by bank transfers.  There is no restriction on the repatriation of capital.  Similarly, there are no restrictions on transfers of profits, interest, royalties, or service fees.  Foreign-controlled French businesses are required to have a resident French bank account and are subject to the same regulations as other French legal entities.  The use of foreign bank accounts by residents is permitted.

For purposes of controlling exchange, the French government considers foreigners as residents from the time they arrive in France.  French and foreign residents are subject to the same rules; they are entitled to open an account in a foreign currency with a bank established in France, and to establish accounts abroad.  They must report all foreign accounts on their annual income tax returns, and money earned in France may be freely converted into dollars or any other currency and transferred abroad.

France is one of nineteen countries (known collectively as the Eurozone) that use the euro currency.  Exchange rate policy for the euro is handled by the European Central Bank, located in Frankfurt, Germany.  The average euro to USD exchange rate from April 1, 2019 to April 1, 2020 was 1 USD to 0.90 euro.

France is a founding member of the OECD-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF, a 39-member intergovernmental body).  As reported in the Department of State’s France Report on Terrorism, the French government has a comprehensive anti-money laundering/ counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) regime and is an active partner in international efforts to control money laundering and terrorist financing.  Tracfin, the French government’s financial intelligence unit, is active within international organizations, and has signed new bilateral agreements with foreign countries.

Remittance Policies

–No additions for 2020–

Sovereign Wealth Funds

France has no sovereign wealth fund per se (none that use that nomenclature) but does operate funds with similar intent.  The Public Investment Bank (Bpifrance) supports small and medium enterprises (SMEs), larger enterprises (Entreprises de Taille Intermedaire), and innovating businesses.  The government strategy is defined at the national level and aims to fit with local strategies.  Bpifrance may hold direct stakes in companies, hold indirect stakes via generalist or sectorial funds, venture capital, development or transfer capital.  In 2019, Bpifrance had minority stakes in 244 firms and 62 investment funds that invest in businesses. It also provides export insurance.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The 11 listed entities in which the French State maintains stakes at the federal level are Aeroports de Paris (50.63 percent), Airbus Group (10.96 percent), Air France-KLM (14.29 percent), EDF (83.58 percent), ENGIE (23.64 percent), Eramet (25.57 percent), La Française des Jeux (FDJ) (21.91 percent), Orange (a direct 13.39 percent stake and a 9.60 percent stake through Bpifrance), Renault (15.01 percent), Safran (11.23 percent), and Thales 25.68 percent).  Unlisted companies owned by the State include SNCF (rail), RATP (public transport), CDC (Caisse des depots et consignations) and La Banque Postale (bank).  In all, the government has majority and minority stakes in 88 firms, in a variety of sectors.

Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, including from state-owned banks or other state-owned investment vehicles.  SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors.  SOEs may get subsidies and other financial resources from the government.

France, as a member of the European Union, is party to the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization.  Companies owned or controlled by the state behave largely like other companies in France and are subject to the same laws and tax code.  The Boards of SOEs operate according to accepted French corporate governance principles as set out in the (private sector) AFEP-MEDEF Code of Corporate Governance.  SOEs are required by law to publish an annual report, and the French Court of Audit conducts financial audits on all entities in which the state holds a majority interest.  The French government appoints representatives to the Boards of Directors of all companies in which it holds significant numbers of shares, and manages its portfolio through a special unit attached to the Ministry for the Economy and Finance Ministry, the shareholding agency APE (Agence de Participations de l’Etat).  The 2018-2019 APE annual report depicted a “State that invests in the future and protects its sovereignty.”  The State as a shareholder must set an example in terms of respect for the environment, gender equality and social responsibility. The report also highlighted that the State must protect its strategic assets and remain a shareholder in areas where the general interest is at stake.

Privatization Program

The government was due to privatize many large companies in 2019, including ADP and ENGIE in order to create a €10 billion ($11 billion) fund for innovation and research.  However, the program was delayed because of political opposition to the privatization of airport manager ADP, regarded as a strategic asset to be protected from foreign shareholders.  The government succeeded in selling in November 2019 a 52 percent stake in gambling firm FDJ.  The government continues to maintain a strong presence in some sectors, particularly power, public transport, and defense industries.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The business community has general awareness of standards for responsible business conduct (RBC) in France.  The country has established a National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, coordinated and chaired by the Directorate General of the Treasury in the Ministry for the Economy and Finance.  Its members represent State Administrations (Ministries in charge of Economy and Finance, Labor and Employment, Foreign Affairs, Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy), six French Trade Unions (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, UNSA) and one employers’ organization, MEDEF.

The NCP promotes the OECD Guidelines in a manner that is relevant to specific sectors.  When specific instances are raised, the NCP offers its good offices to the parties (discussion, exchange of information) and may act as a mediator in disputes, if appropriate.  This can involve conducting fact-finding to assist parties in resolving disputes, and posting final statements on any recommendations for future action with regard to the Guidelines.  The NCP may also monitor how its recommendations are implemented by the business in question.  In April 2017, the French NCP signed a two-year partnership with Global Compact France to increase sharing of information and activity between the two organizations.

In France, corporate governance standards for publicly traded companies are the product of a combination of legislative provisions and the recommendations of the AFEP-MEDEF code (two employers’ organizations).  The code, which defines principles of corporate governance by outlining rules for corporate officers, controls and transparency, meets the expectations of shareholders and various stakeholders, as well as of the European Commission.  First introduced in September 2002, it is regularly updated, adding new principles for the determination of remuneration and independence of directors, and now includes corporate social and environmental responsibility standards.  The latest amendments in February 2019 tackle the remuneration and post-employment benefits of Chief Executive Officers and Executive Officers: 60 percent variable remuneration based on quantitative objectives and 40 percent on quality objectives, including efforts in the corporate social responsibility.

Also relating to transparency, the EU passed a new regulation in May 2017 to stem the trade in conflict minerals and, in particular, to stop conflict minerals and metals from being exported to the EU; to prevent global and EU smelters and refiners from using conflict minerals; and to protect mine workers from being abused.  The regulation goes into effect January 1, 2021, and will then apply directly to French law.

France has played an active role in negotiating the ISO 26000 standards, the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  France has signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), although, it has not yet been fully implemented.  Since 2017, large companies based in France and having at least 5,000 employees are now required to establish and implement a corporate plan to identify and assess any risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, workers’ health, safety, and risk to the environment from activities of their company and its affiliates.

9. Corruption

In line with President Macron’s campaign promise to clean up French politics, the French parliament adopted in September 2017 the law on “Restoring Confidence in Public Life.” The new law bans elected officials from employing family members, or working as a lobbyist or consultant while in office. It also bans lobbyists from paying parliamentary, ministerial, or presidential staff and requires parliamentarians to submit receipts for expenses.

France’s “Transparency, Anti-corruption, and Economic Modernization Law,” also known as the “Loi Sapin II,” came into effect on June 1, 2017.  It brought France’s legislation in line with European and international standards.  Key aspects of the law include: creating a new anti-corruption agency; establishing “deferred prosecution” for defendants in corruption cases and prosecuting companies (French or foreign) suspected of bribing foreign public officials abroad; requiring lobbyists to register with national institutions; and expanding legal protections for whistleblowers.  The Sapin II law also established a High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP).  The HATVP promotes transparency in public life by publishing the declarations of assets and interests it is legally authorized to share publicly.  After review, declarations of assets and statements of interests of members of the government are published on the High Authority’s website under open license.  The declarations of interests of members of Parliament and mayors of big cities and towns, but also of regions are also available on the website.  In addition, the declarations of assets of parliamentarians can be accessed in certain governmental buildings, though not published on the internet.

France is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.  The U.S. embassy in Paris has received no specific complaints from U.S. firms of unfair competition in France in recent years. France ranked 23rd of 180 on Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 corruption perceptions index. See https://www.transparency.org/country/FRA .

Resources to Report Corruption

The Central Office for the Prevention of Corruption (Service Central de Prevention de la Corruption or SCPC) was replaced in 2017 by the new national anti-corruption agency – the Agence Francaise Anticorruption (AFA).  The AFA is charged with preventing corruption by establishing anti-corruption programs, making recommendations, and centralizing and disseminating information to prevent and detect corrupt officials and company executives.  The AFA will also administrative authority to review the anticorruption compliance mechanisms in the private sector, in local authorities and in other government agencies.

Contact information for Agence Française Anti-corruption (AFA):

Director: Charles Duchaine
23 avenue d’Italie
75013 Paris
Tel : (+33) 1 44 87 21 14
Email: charles.duchaine@afa.gouv.fr

Contact information for Transparency International’s French affiliate:

Transparency International France
14, passage Dubail
75010 Paris
Tel: (+33) 1 84 16 95 65;
Email: contact@transparency-france.org

10. Political and Security Environment

France is a politically stable country.  Occasionally, large demonstrations and protests occur (sometimes organized to occur simultaneously in multiple French cities); these normally do not result in violence.  When faced with imminent business closures, on rare occasions French trade unions have resorted to confrontational techniques such as setting plants on fire, planting bombs, or kidnapping executives or managers.

From mid-November 2018 through 2019, Paris and other cities in France faced regular protests and disruptions, including “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vest) demonstrations, initiated by discontent over high cost of living, taxes, and social exclusion.  In the second half of 2019, most demonstrations were in response to President Macron’s proposed unemployment and pension reform.  Authorities permitted peaceful protests.  During some demonstrations, damage to property, including looting and arson, in popular tourist areas occurred with reckless disregard for public safety.  Police response included water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas.

On February 7, 2020, a survey produced by the American Chamber of Commerce in France and the consulting firm Bain & Company cited a renewed confidence of American companies regarding France’s attractiveness despite an outpouring of social unrest during the first half of 2019 and often violent protests throughout the whole year:  41 percent of the investors positive over the next two to three years (+ 11 points compared with 2018), and 51 percent expected to increase the number of their employees in France.  Furthermore, over 85 percent considered the impact of France’s reforms to be positive for investors.  France’s Yellow Vest movement rekindled class warfare in France and exemplified the existence of two Frances, putting on hold on-going economic and labor reforms such as cuts to unemployment benefits and pensions .

In recent years, more than 230 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in France, including the January 2015 assault on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the November 2015 Bataclan concert hall and national stadium attacks, and the 2016 Bastille Day truck attack in Nice.  While terrorists continue to target French interests, since July 2016 attacks have been smaller in scale and most often perpetrated by lone actors inspired by, but with little direct connection to, ISIS or other international terrorist organizations.  French security agencies continue to disrupt plots and cells, and their efforts have been aided by recent legislation and executive measures which strengthen search and detention authorities.  Despite the spate of recent small-scale attacks, France remains a strong, stable, democratic country with a vibrant economy and culture.  Americans and investors from all over the world continue to invest heavily in France.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

France’s private sector labor force is a major asset in attracting foreign investment.  With a return to growth (1.7 percent in 2018 and 1.2 percent in 2019) and a drop in unemployment to 8.1 percent in 2019 from 8.8 percent in 2018, President Macron launched a labor market reform to reduce regulations and spur new hiring.  Five ordinances (executive orders), which came into effect on January 1, 2018, introduced measures easing companies’ ability to fire workers including by capping potential damage claims in cases of wrongful dismissal, and a one-year time limit for making claims, which business organizations have requested for several decades.  In order to make these proposals acceptable to labor unions, Labor Minister Penicaud increased regular required severance pay by 25 percent.  For example, an employee paid a monthly €2,000 ($2,160) and fired after 10 years will be entitled to a severance pay of €5,000 ($5,400), instead of the previous €4,000 ($4,320).

Mandatory company employee councils for consultations on economic, social and public safety issues have been reduced from three to one participant. Companies of all sizes are now able to initiate wide-scale voluntary layoffs with severance provisions for employees for any reason without fear of lawsuit, but with the agreement of labor unions representing a majority of employees.  Finally, foreign-owned companies no longer have to justify job cuts in France on the basis of their global turnover, but can base them on poor performance in the French market alone.  These measures have been welcomed by the business community.

France’s has one of the lowest unionized work forces in the developed world (between 8-11 percent of the total work force).  However, unions have strong statutory protections under French law that give them the power to engage in sector- and industry-wide negotiations on behalf of all workers.  As a result, an estimated 98 percent of French workers are covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements.  Any organizational change in the workplace must usually be presented to the unions for a formal consultation as part of the collective bargaining process.

The number of apprenticeships in France has increased by 16 percent in 2019 and now totals 491,000 in both the public and private sectors, according to Labor Ministry figures.  Apprenticeships, like vocational training, have been placed under the direct management of the government via a newly created agency called France Compétences.  Growth of apprenticeship and reform of vocational training help to explain the recent drop in the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 from 8.8 percent in the previous quarter.  This was France’s lowest unemployment rate since the 2008 financial crisis.  However, youth unemployment remained high at 20 percent, from 20.8 percent in 2018 and 22.3 percent in 2017.  France’s partial unemployment scheme, which allows firms to retain their employees while the government continues to pay a portion of their wages, has expanded dramatically in scope and size during the Coronavirus epidemic.  Over half of France’s entire workforce was enrolled in the scheme at the end of April 2020.  The number of job seekers is likely to increase sharply if the government follows through with its plan to gradually taper off the scheme beginning in June 2020.

The COVID-19 crisis may cause the Macron Administration to delay or abandon two planned labor reforms on unemployment benefits and pensions.  Labor unions have asked the government to repeal its July 26, 2019 decrees gradually introducing tighter rules for unemployment benefit claims designed to encourage people to go back to work and save €3.4 billion ($3.75 billion) over three years.  The new rules reduce benefits for all unemployed people, especially the highest earners (above €4,500 / $4,950 a month).  Pension reform, approved by the government on January 24, 2020,  and opposed by all labor unions in its current form, is also unlikely to resurface in parliament as the government focuses on economic recovery.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Given France’s high per capita income, investments in France do not qualify for investment insurance or guarantees offered by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
French Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $2,780,644       2018        $2,777,535 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in France ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $55,518 2018 $86,863 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/
international/direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
France’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $244,655 2018 $292,721 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/
international/direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % French GDP 2018 30.6% 2018 29.7% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: INSEE database for GDP figures and French Central Bank (Banque de France) for FDI figures. Accessed on April 27, 2020.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in France Economy Data in 2018
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 825,023 100% Total Outward 1,507,926 100%
Luxembourg 184,489 22% United States 237,198 15%
United Kingdom 107,911 13% The Netherlands 177,372 12%
The Netherlands 107,576 13% Belgium 174,673 11%
Switzerland 93,313 11% United Kingdom 148,105 9%
Germany 72,607 8% Italy 104,196 7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

The IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) database is consistent with France’s Central Bank database.  The Netherlands appears as the second country destination for French FDI.  This could be related to the fact that a few big French companies (Danone, Total, Thalès, Airbus, Air Liquide) have their headquarters based in the Netherlands because of its attractive corporate tax policy.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Portfolio Investment Assets as of June 2019
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,986,638 100% All Countries 912,807 100% All Countries 2,073,832 100%
Luxembourg 526,602 17% Luxembourg 294,471 32% United States 256,496 12%
United States 354,640 12% United States 98,144 10% The Netherlands 243,098 11%
The Netherlands 306,534 10% Germany 85,594 9% Luxembourg 232,132 11%
Italy 234,998 7% Ireland 75,975 8% Italy 200,512 9%
United Kingdom 207,314 7% The Netherlands 63,436 7% United Kingdom 184,136 8%

The IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) database is consistent with France’s Central Bank database.  Luxembourg is a very attractive hub for asset and investment management in Europe.

14. Contact for More Information

Dustin Salveson
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy
2 Avenue Gabriel
75008 Paris, France
Tel: +33.1.43.12.2000
FranceICSeditor@state.gov
https://fr.usembassy.gov/business/

Germany

Executive Summary

As Europe’s largest economy, Germany is a major destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and has accumulated a vast stock of FDI over time.  Germany is consistently ranked  as one of the most attractive investment destinations based on its reliable infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, positive social climate, stable legal environment, and world-class research and development.

The United States is the leading source of non-European foreign investment in Germany.  Foreign investment in Germany mainly originates from other European countries, the United States, and Japan.  FDI from emerging economies (and China) has grown slowly over 2015-2018, albeit from low levels.

The German government continues to strengthen provisions for national security screening inward investment in reaction to an increasing number of high-risk acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors in recent years, particularly from China.  German authorities strongly support the European Union framework to coordinate Member State screening of foreign investments, which entered into force in April 2019, and are currently enacting implementing legislation.

In 2018, the government 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 or provide services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses.

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.

German legal, regulatory, and accounting systems can be complex and burdensome but are generally transparent and consistent with developed-market norms.  Businesses operate within a well regulated, albeit high cost, environment.  Foreign and domestic investors are treated equally when it comes to investment incentives or the establishment and protection of real and intellectual property.  Foreign investors can rely on the German legal system to enforce laws and contracts; at the same time, this system requires investors to closely track their legal obligations. New investors should ensure they have the necessary legal expertise, either in-house or outside counsel, to meet all national and EU regulations.

German authorities are committed to fighting money laundering and corruption.  The government promotes responsible business conduct and German SMEs are aware of the need for due diligence.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 9 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 22 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 9 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 140.331 billion USD  https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 54,560 USD http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The German government and industry actively encourage foreign investment. U.S. investment continues to account for a significant share of Germany’s FDI. The 1956 U.S.-Federal Republic of Germany Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation affords U.S. investors national treatment and provides for the free movement of capital between the United States and Germany. As an OECD member, Germany adheres to the OECD National Treatment Instrument and the OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and of Invisible Operations.  The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers, to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security (for example, when the investment pertains to critical infrastructure).  For many decades, Germany has experienced significant inbound investment, which is widely recognized as a considerable contributor to Germany’s growth and prosperity.  The investment-related challenges facing foreign companies are broadly the same as face domestic firms, e.g high tax rates and labor laws that complicate hiring and dismissals. Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, provides extensive information for investors:  https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under German law, a foreign-owned company registered in the Federal Republic of Germany as a GmbH (limited liability company) or an AG (joint stock company) is treated the same as a German-owned company.  There are no special nationality requirements for directors or shareholders.

The provision of employee placement services, such as providing temporary office support, domestic help, or executive search services, requires registration of a business in Germany.

Germany maintains an elaborate mechanism to screen foreign investments based on national security grounds.  The legislative basis for the mechanism (the Foreign Trade and Payments Act and Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance) has been amended several times in recent years in an effort to tighten parameters of the screening as technological threats evolve, particularly to address growing  investment interest by malevolent actors in both Mittelstand (mid-sized) and blue chip German companies.  Amendments to implement the 2019 EU Screening Regulation are in draft or have been announced as of May 2020.  In addition, authorities will make “prospective impairment” of public order and security the new trigger for an investment review, in place of the current standard (which requires a de facto threat).

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2020” and Economist Intelligence Unit both provide additional information on Germany’s investment climate.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Germany also publishes results of an annual survey of U.S. investors in Germany (“AmCham Germany Transatlantic Business Barometer”, https://www.amcham.de/publications).

Business Facilitation

Before engaging in commercial activities, companies and business operators must register in public directories, the two most significant of which are the commercial register (Handelsregister) and the trade office register (Gewerberegister).

Applications for registration at the commercial register, which is  available under www.handelsregister.de , are electronically filed in publicly certified form through a notary.  The commercial register provides information about all relevant relationships between merchants and commercial companies, including names of partners and managing directors, capital stock, liability limitations, and insolvency proceedings.  Registration costs vary depending on the size of the company.

Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, can assist in the registration processes  (https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/establishing-a-company/business-registration-65532 ) and advises investors, including micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), on how to obtain incentives.

In the EU, MSMEs are defined as follows:

  • Micro-enterprises:  less than 10 employees and less than €2 million annual turnover or less than €2 million in balance sheet total.
  • Small-enterprises:  less than 50 employees and less than €10 million annual turnover or less than €10 million in balance sheet total.
  • Medium-sized enterprises:  less than 250 employees and less than €50 million annual turnover or less than €43 million in balance sheet total.

Outward Investment

Germany’s federal government provides guarantees for investments by Germany-based companies in developing and emerging economies and countries in transition in order to insure them against political risks.  In order to receive guarantees, the investment must have adequate legal protection in the host country. The Federal Government does not insure against commercial risks.

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:

https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Artikel/Foreign-Trade/investment-screening.html 

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.

Dispute Settlement

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.

Bankruptcy Regulations

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.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Federal and state investment incentives – including investment grants, labor-related and R&D incentives, public loans, and public guarantees – are available to domestic and foreign investors alike.  Different incentives can be combined. In general, foreign and German investors must meet the same criteria for eligibility.

Germany Trade & Invest, Germany’s federal economic development agency, provides comprehensive information on incentives in English at:  https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/incentive-programs .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are currently two free ports in Germany operating under EU law:  Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven. The duty-free zones within the ports also permit value-added processing and manufacturing for EU-external markets, albeit with certain requirements.  All are open to both domestic and foreign entities. In recent years, falling tariffs and the progressive enlargement of the EU have eroded much of the utility and attractiveness of duty-free zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

In general, there are no requirements for local sourcing, export percentage, or local or national ownership.  In some cases, however, there may be performance requirements tied to an incentive, such as creation of jobs or maintaining a certain level of employment for a prescribed length of time.

U.S. companies can generally obtain the visas and work permits required to do business in Germany.  U.S. citizens may apply for work and residential permits from within Germany. Germany Trade & Invest offers detailed information online at https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/coming-to-germany.

There are no localization requirements for data storage in Germany.  However, in recent years German and European cloud providers have sought to market the domestic location of their servers as a competitive advantage.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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/ .

Country resources:

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):

https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/jahresstatistik_2018.html?nn=287024 

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)
http://www.markenpiraterie-apm.de/index.php?article_id=1&clang=1 

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

Foreign Exchange

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.

Remittance Policies

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.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The formal term for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Germany translates as “public funds, institutions, or companies,” and refers to entities whose budget and administration are separate from those of the government, but in which the government has more than 50 percent of the capital shares or voting rights.  Appropriations for SOEs are included in public budgets, and SOEs can take two forms, either public or private law entities. Public law entities are recognized as legal personalities whose goal, tasks, and organization are established and defined via specific acts of legislation, with the best-known example being the publicly-owned promotional bank KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau).  The government can also resort to ownership or participation in an entity governed by private law if the following conditions are met: doing so fulfills an important state interest, there is no better or more economical alternative, the financial responsibility of the federal government is limited, the government has appropriate supervisory influence, and yearly reports are published.

Government oversight of SOEs is decentralized and handled by the ministry with the appropriate technical area of expertise.  The primary goal of such involvement is promoting public interests rather than generating profits. The government is required to close its ownership stake in a private entity if tasks change or technological progress provides more effective alternatives, though certain areas, particularly science and culture, remain permanent core government obligations.  German SOEs are subject to the same taxes and the same value added tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. There are no laws or rules that seek to ensure a primary or leading role for SOEs in certain sectors or industries.  However, a white paper drafted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy in November 2019 outlines elements of a national industrial strategy, which includes the option of a temporary state participation in key technology companies as “last resort”.  Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, including access to state-owned banks such as KfW.

The Federal Statistics Office maintains a database of SOEs from all three levels of government (federal, state, and municipal) listing a total of 18,014 entities for 2017, or 0.5 percent of the total 3.5 million companies in Germany.  SOEs in 2017 had €572 billion in revenue and €541 billion in expenditures. Almost 40 percent of SOEs’ revenue was generated by water and energy suppliers, 13 percent by health and social services, and 12 percent by transportation-related entities.  Measured by number of companies rather than size, 88 percent of SOEs are owned by municipalities, 10 percent are owned by Germany’s 16 states, and 2 percent are owned by the federal government.

The Federal Finance Ministry is required to publish a detailed annual report on public funds, institutions, and companies in which the federal government has direct participation (including a minority share) or an indirect participation greater than 25 percent and with a nominal capital share worth more than €50,000.  The federal government held a direct participation in 109 companies and an indirect participation in 444 companies at the end of 2017, most prominently Deutsche Bahn (100 percent share), Deutsche Telekom (32 percent share), and Deutsche Post (21 percent share). Federal government ownership is concentrated in the areas of economic development, infrastructure, science, administration/increasing efficiency, defense, development policy, culture.  As the result of federal financial assistance packages from the federally-controlled Financial Market Stability Fund during the global financial crisis of 2008-9, the federal government still has a partial stake in several commercial banks, including a 15.6 percent share in Commerzbank, Germany’s second largest commercial bank. The 2018 annual report (with 2017 data) can be found here: https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Content/DE/Downloads/Broschueren_Bestellservice/2019-05-23-beteiligungsbericht-des-bundes-2018.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3 

Publicly-owned banks constitute one of the three pillars of Germany’s banking system (cooperative and commercial banks are the other two).  Germany’s savings banks are mainly owned by the municipalities, while the so-called Landesbanken are typically owned by regional savings bank associations and the state governments.  Given their joint market share, about 40 percent of the German banking sector is publicly owned.  There are also many state-owned promotional/development banks which have taken on larger governmental roles in financing infrastructure. This increased role removes expenditures from public budgets, particularly helpful in light of Germany’s balanced budget rules, which go into effect for the states in 2020.

A longstanding, prominent case of a partially state-owned enterprise is automotive manufacturer Volkswagen, in which the state of Lower Saxony owns the third-largest share in the company at around 12 percent share, but controls 20 percent of the voting rights.  The so-called Volkswagen Law, passed in 1960, limited individual shareholder’s voting rights in Volkswagen to a maximum of 20 percent regardless of the actual number of shares owned, so that Lower Saxony could veto any takeover attempts. In 2005, the European Commission successfully sued Germany at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), claiming the law impeded the free flow of capital.  The law was subsequently amended to remove the cap on voting rights, but Lower Saxony’s 20 percent share of voting rights was maintained, preserving its ability to block hostile takeovers.

The wholly federal government-owned railway company, Deutsche Bahn, was cleared by the European Commission in 2013 of allegations of abusing its dominant market position after Deutsche Bahn implemented a new, competitive pricing system.  A similar case brought by the German Federal Cartel Office against Deutsche Bahn was terminated in May 2016 after the company implemented a new pricing system.

Privatization Program

Germany does not have any privatization programs at this time.  German authorities treat foreigners equally in privatizations of state-owned enterprises.

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).

9. Corruption

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
office@transparency.de

The Federal Criminal Office publishes an annual report: “Bundeslagebild Korruption” – the latest one covers 2018.

https://www.bka.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Publikationen/JahresberichteUndLagebilder/Korruption/korruptionBundeslagebild2018.html?nn=28078 

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.

Labor Relations

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.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

OPIC programs were available for the new states of eastern Germany for several years during the early 1990s following reunification, but were later suspended due to economic and political progress which caused the region to “graduate” from OPIC coverage.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
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
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 €247,508 2018 $324,151 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 23.0% 2018 23.5% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
 

* 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 €)

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
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%
Luxembourg $165,567 17.6% Luxembourg $185,976 11.3%
United States $105,714 11.3% The Netherlands $165,686 10.1%
Switzerland $88,934 9.5% United Kingdom $144,224 8.8%
United Kingdom $64,559 6.9% France $97,067 5.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
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%
Luxembourg $686,162 19.0% Luxembourg $564,143 43.2% France $346,260 15.0%
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%
Ireland $205,964 5.7% Switzerland 56,588 4.3% Spain $133,531 5.8%

14. Contact for More Information

Foreign Commercial Service
Pariser Platz 2, 14191 Berlin, Germany
+49-(0)30-8305-2940
Email: feedback@usembassy.de

Italy

Executive Summary

Italy’s economy, the eighth largest in the world, is fully diversified, and dominated by small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), which comprise 99.9 percent of Italian businesses.  Yet Italy continues to attract less foreign direct investment than many other European industrialized nations.  The government’s efforts to implement new investment promotion policies to position Italy as a desirable investment destination have been undermined in part by Italy’s slow economic growth, unpredictable tax regime, multi-layered bureaucracy, and  time-consuming and often inconsistent legal and regulatory procedures.

There were several significant investment-related policy developments during 2019, including enactment of a digital services tax (DST) that primarily targets tech firms and media companies; the Italian government’s extension of its Golden Power investment screening authority to procurement of 5G-related goods and services from non-EU suppliers; and the government’s March 2019 signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China to endorse partnership with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  While the MOU is neither a treaty nor an agreement, Italy’s signature signaled the Italian government’s keen interest in attracting investment from China in its infrastructure.

Italy’s relatively affluent domestic market, access to the European Common Market, proximity to emerging economies in North Africa and the Middle East, and assorted centers of excellence in scientific and information technology research, remain attractive to many investors.  The government remains open to foreign investment in shares of Italian companies and continues to make information available online to prospective investors.  Tourism is an important source of external revenue, as are exports of pharmaceutical products, furniture, industrial machinery and machine tools, electrical appliances, automobiles and auto parts, food, and wine, as well as textiles/fashion.  The sectors that have attracted significant foreign investment include telecommunications, transportation, energy, and pharmaceuticals.

Italy is an original member of the 19-nation Eurozone.  Germany, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Switzerland are Italy’s most important trading partners, with China continuing to gain ground.  Italy’s economy outperformed expectations for 2019, with modest GDP growth of 0.3%, (exceeding consensus projections of 0.2%); a government budget deficit of 1.6% of GDP, the lowest level registered since 2009, and an unchanged public debt to GDP percentage of 134.8%.  Another positive factor was that government borrowing fell from 2.2% of GDP in 2018 to 1.6% of GDP in 2019.  The significant decrease in debt servicing costs reflected the decrease in yields on Italian government bonds during 2019.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 51 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 58 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 30 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 $38,479 https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $33,730 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Italy welcomes foreign direct investment (FDI).  As a European Union (EU) member state, Italy is bound by the European Union’s treaties and laws.  Under the EU treaties with the United States, as well as OECD commitments, Italy is generally obliged to provide national treatment to U.S. investors established in Italy or in another EU member state.

EU and Italian antitrust laws provide Italian authorities with the right to review mergers and acquisitions for market dominance.  In addition, the Italian government may block mergers and acquisitions involving foreign firms under the “Golden Power” law if the proposed transactions raise national security concerns.  This law was enacted in 2012 and further implemented with decrees or legislation in 2015, 2017, and 2019.  The Golden Power law allows the Government of Italy (GOI) to block foreign acquisition of companies operating in strategic sectors (identified as defense/national security, energy, transportation, telecommunications, critical infrastructure, sensitive technology, and nuclear and space technology).  In March 2019, the GOI issued a decree expanding the Golden Power authority to cover the purchase of goods and services related to the planning, realization, maintenance, and management of broadband communications networks using 5G technology.  The GOI’s Golden Power authority applies in all cases in which the potential purchaser is a non-EU company.  The authority extends to cases involving EU companies if the target of the acquisition engages in defense/national security activities.  In this respect, the GOI has a say regarding the ownership of private companies as well as ones in which the government has a stake.  An interagency group led by the Prime Minister’s office reviews acquisition applications and prepares the dossiers/ recommendations for the Council of Ministers’ decisions.

According to the latest figures available from the Italian Trade Agency (ITA), foreign investors own significant shares of 12,768 Italian companies.  As of the end of 2019, these companies employed 1,211,872 workers with overall sales of EUR 573.6 billion.  ITA operates under the umbrella of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.

The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) promotes foreign investment through Invest in Italy:  http://www.investinitaly.com/en/ .  The Foreign Investments Attraction Department is a dedicated unit of ITA for facilitating the establishment and the development of foreign companies in Italy.  As of April 2019, ITA maintained a presence in 65 countries to assist foreign investors.

Additionally, Invitalia is the national agency for inward investment and economic development and is part of the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance.  The agency focuses on strategic sectors for development and employment.  It places an emphasis on southern Italy, where investment and development lag in comparison to the rest of the country.  Invitalia finances projects both large and small, supporting entrepreneurs with concrete development plans, especially in innovative and high-value-added sectors.  For more information, see https://www.invitalia.it/eng .  The Ministry of Economic Development also has a program to attract innovative investments:  https://www.mise.gov.it .

Italy’s main business association (Confindustria) also provides assistance to companies in Italy:  https://www.confindustria.it/en .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under EU treaties and OECD obligations, Italy is generally obliged to provide national treatment to U.S. investors established in Italy or in another EU member state.

EU and Italian antitrust laws provide national authorities with the right to review mergers and acquisitions over a certain financial threshold.  The Italian government may block mergers and acquisitions involving foreign firms to protect the national strategic interest or in retaliation if the government of the foreign firm applies discriminatory measures against Italian firms.  Foreign investors in the defense or aircraft manufacturing sectors are more likely to encounter resistance from the many ministries involved in reviewing foreign acquisitions than foreign investors in other sectors.

Italy maintains a formal national security screening process for inbound foreign investment in the sectors of defense/national security, transportation, energy, telecommunications, critical infrastructure, sensitive technology, and nuclear and space technology under its “Golden Power” legislation, and where there may be market concentration (antitrust) issues.  Italy’s Golden Power legislation was expanded in March 2019 to include the purchase of goods and services related to the planning, realization, maintenance, and management of broadband communications networks using 5G technology.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

An OECD Economic Survey was published for Italy in April 2019.  See   https://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/Italy-2019-OECD-economic-survey-overview.pdf 

Business Facilitation

Italy has a business registration website, available in Italian and English, administered through the Union of Italian Chambers of Commerce: http://www.registroimprese.it.   The online business registration process is clear and complete, and available to foreign companies.  Before registering a company online, applicants must obtain a certified e-mail address and digital signature, a process that may take up to five days.  A notary is required to certify the documentation.  The precise steps required for the registration process depend on the type of business being registered.  The minimum capital requirement also varies by type of business. Generally, companies must obtain a value-added tax account number (partita IVA) from the Italian Revenue Agency; register with the social security agency (Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale INPS); verify adequate capital and insurance coverage with the Italian workers’ compensation agency Istituto Nazionale per L’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro (INAIL); and, notify the regional office of the Ministry of Labor.  According to the World Bank Doing Business Index 2020, Italy’s ranking decreased from 67 to 98 out of 190 countries in terms of the ease of starting a business:  it takes six procedures and 11 days to start a business in Italy.  Additional licenses may be required, depending on the type of business to be conducted.

Invitalia and the Italian Trade Agency’s Foreign Direct Investment Unit assist those wanting to set up a new business in Italy.  Many Italian localities also have one-stop shops to serve as a single point of contact for, and provide advice to, potential investors on applying for necessary licenses and authorizations at both the local and national level.  These services are available to all investors.

Outward Investment

Italy neither promotes, restricts, nor incentivizes outward investment, nor restricts domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Italy does not have a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with the United States.

Italy has bilateral investment agreements with the following countries (for more information and text of the agreements, see http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/103 ):

Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize (signed, not in force), Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil (signed, not in force), Cameroon, Cape Verde (signed, not in force), Chad, Chile, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire (signed, not in force),  Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo (signed, not in force), Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia,  Gabon, Georgia, Ghana (signed, not in force), Guatemala, Guinea, Hong Kong, Iran, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, DPR of Korea  (signed, not in force),  Republic of Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Macedonia FYR,  Malawi, Malaysia, Malta (signed, not in force), Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Republic of Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia (signed, not in force), South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan (signed, not in force), Syrian Arab Republic, Tanzania, United Republic of Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan (signed, not in force), United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela (signed, not in force), Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe (signed, not in force).

Italy has not ratified a BIT since 2009 and has not negotiated a BIT since 2014.  Since 2009, investment treaty negotiations fall within the competence of the EU:  http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/accessing-markets/investment/ .

As an EU member, Italy’s FTA negotiations are likewise handled at the EU level:  http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/ .

Italy shares a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.  The text of the treaty is available at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/international-businesses/united-states-income-tax-treaties-a-to-z .

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Regulatory authority exists at the national, regional, and municipal level.  All applicable regulations could potentially be relevant for foreign investors.  Regulations are developed at the national level by the GOI and individual ministries, as well as independent regulatory authorities.  Regional and municipal authorities issue regulations at the sub-national level.  Draft regulations may be posted for public comment, but there is generally no requirement to do so. Final national-level regulations are in general published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale (and only become effective upon publication).  Regulatory agencies may publish summaries of received comments.  No major regulatory reform was undertaken in 2019.

Aggrieved parties may challenge regulations in court.  Public finances and debt obligations are transparent and are publicly available through banking channels such as the Bank of Italy (BOI).  Of note was global steel giant ArcelorMittal’s late 2019 threat to pull out of its agreement to buy Italian steel company ILVA (subsequently suspended).  ArcelorMittal (AM) had acted in the wake of the government’s decision against renewing its grant of immunity to ILVA for environmental and health damages arising from operations at its steel plant.  In March 2020, AM announced reversal of its earlier plans to withdraw, while the GOI and AM continue to negotiate.

International Regulatory Considerations

Italy is a Member of the European Union (EU).  EU directives are brought into force in Italy through implementing national legislation.  In some areas, EU procedures require Member States to notify the European Commission (EC) before implementing national-level regulations.  Italy has on occasion failed to notify the EC and/or the World Trade Organization (WTO) of draft regulations in a timely way.  For example, in 2017 Italy adopted Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) measures for milk and milk products, rice, durum wheat, and tomato-based products.  Italy’s Ministers of  Agriculture and Economic Development publicly stated these measures would support the “Made in Italy” brand and make Italian products more competitive.  Though the requirements were widely regarded as a Technical Barrier to Trade (TBT), Italy failed to notify the WTO in advance of implementing these regulations.  Moreover, in March 2020, the Italian Ministers of Agriculture and Economic Development extended the validity of such COOL measures until December 31, 2021.  Italy is a signatory to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has implemented all developed-country obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Italian law is based on Roman law and on the French Napoleonic Code law.  The Italian judicial system consists of a series of courts and a body of judges employed as civil servants.  The system is unified; every court is part of the national network.  Though notoriously slow, the Italian civil legal system meets the generally recognized principles of international law, with provisions for enforcing property and contractual rights.  Italy has a written and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy law.  Foreign investors in Italy can choose among different means of alternate dispute resolution (ADR), including legally binding arbitration, though use of ADR remains rare.  The GOI has over recent years introduced justice reforms to reduce the backlog of civil cases and speed newly filed cases to conclusion.  These reforms also included a new emphasis on ADR and methods to make collecting judgments easier.

Regulations can be appealed in the court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Italy is bound by EU laws on FDI.

Digital Services Tax

In 2019, Italy began implementing a digital services tax (DST), applicable to companies that meet the following two conditions:

  1. EUR 750 million in annual global revenues from any source, not just digital services; and,
  2. EUR 5.5 million in annual revenues from digital services delivered in Italy.

As currently formulated, many U.S. technology companies will fall under Italy’s DST, and reportedly Italian media firms could also be subject to the tax.  The law also has a provision to allow companies subject to the tax to defer their tax payments until February 2021.  The Italian DST could be overtaken and replaced by any agreement of OECD parties (which include both Italy and the United States) to reform the international tax regime.

Italy ranked 58 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index covering 2019.  Several U.S. multinationals have sought U.S. Embassy assistance in dealing with Italy’s tax enforcement, with some expressing concerns that the Italian Revenue Agency appears to unfairly target large companies.  According to the companies, Italian tax investigations may question corporate accounting practices deemed legitimate in other EU Member States, creating inconsistencies and uncertainty.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) is responsible for reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns.  AGCM may examine transactions that restrict competition in Italy as well as in the broader EU market.  As a member of the EU, Italy is also subject to interventions by the European Commission Competition Directorate (DG COMP).

Expropriation and Compensation

The Italian Constitution permits expropriation of private property for “public purposes,” defined as essential services (including during national health emergencies) or measures indispensable for the national economy, with fair and timely compensation.  Expropriations have been minimal in 2019.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Italy is a member state of the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention).  Italy has signed and ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).  Italian civil law (Section 839) provides for and governs the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards in Italy.

Italian law recognizes and enforces foreign court judgments.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Italy is a contracting state to the 1965 Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (entered into force on 28 April 1971).

Italy has had very few publicly-known investment disputes involving a U.S. person in the last 10 years.  The U.S. Embassy has identified less than five such active disputes at the time of the drafting of this report.  No cases have been terminated or resolved; all remain pending.  Italy does not have a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Italy is a party to the following international treaties relating to arbitration:

  • The 1927 Geneva Convention on The Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards (entered into force on 12 February 1931);
  • The 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (entered into force on 1 May 1969); and
  • The 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (entered into force on 1 November 1970).

Italy’s Code of Civil Procedure (Book IV, Title VIII, Sections 806-840) governs arbitration, including the recognition of foreign arbitration awards.  Italian law is not based on the UNCITRAL Model Law; however, many of the principles of the Model Law are present in Italian law.  Parties are free to choose from a variety of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, including mediation, arbitration, and lawyer-assisted negotiation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Italy’s bankruptcy regulations are somewhat analogous to U.S. Chapter 11 restructuring and allow firms and their creditors to reach a solution without declaring bankruptcy.  In recent years, the judiciary’s role in bankruptcy proceedings has been reduced in an attempt to simplify and expedite proceedings.  In 2015, the Italian parliament passed a package of changes to the bankruptcy law, including measures to ease access to interim credit for bankrupt companies and to restructure debts.  Additional changes were approved in 2017 (juridical liquidation, early warning, simplified process, arrangement with creditors, insolvency of affiliated companies as a group, and reorganization of indebtedness rules).  The measures aim to reduce the number of bankruptcies, limit the impact on the local economy, and facilitate the settlement of corporate disputes outside of the court system.  The reform follows on the 2015 reform of insolvency procedures.  The legislative “implementation decree” for the 2017 bankruptcy reform was issued in early 2019.  In the World Bank’s Doing Business Index 2020, Italy ranks 21 out of 190 economies in the category of Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The GOI offers modest incentives to encourage private sector investment in targeted sectors (e.g., innovative companies) and economically depressed regions, particularly in southern Italy. The incentives are available to eligible foreign investors as well.  Incentives include grants, low-interest loans, deductions and tax credits.  Some incentive programs have a cost cap, which may prevent otherwise eligible companies from receiving the incentive benefits once the cap is reached.  The GOI applies cost caps on a non-discriminatory basis, typically based on the order that applications were filed.  The government does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

Italy provides an incentive for investments by SMEs in new machinery and capital equipment (“New Sabatini Law”), available to eligible companies regardless of nationality.  This investment incentive provides financing, subject to an annual cost cap.  Sector-specific investment incentives are also available in targeted sectors.

In January 2018, the GOI also provided “super amortization” and “hyper amortization” (essentially, generous tax deductions) on investments in special areas of the economy.  Of these only “hyper amortization” was renewed in the 2019 budget law.  The GOI has been considering reintroducing the “super amortization” by decree law  in order to stimulate investment.  The GOI has not yet renewed the broader “Industry 4.0” initiative launched by the previous government in 2017 to improve the Italian industrial sector’s competitiveness through a combination of policy measures and research and infrastructure funding.

The Italian tax system does not generally discriminate between foreign and domestic investors, though the digital services tax implemented by Parliament in December 2019 and now accruing on companies subject to the tax, likely will have a significant impact on certain U.S. companies, and affect some Italian media companies, as well.  The corporate income tax (IRES) rate is 24 percent.  In addition, companies may be subject to a regional tax on productive activities (IRAP) at a 3.9 percent rate.  The World Bank estimates Italy’s total tax rate as a percent of commercial profits at 59.1 percent in 2019, higher than the OECD high-income average of 39.7 percent.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The main free trade zone in Italy is located in Trieste, in the northeast.  The goods brought into the zone may undergo transformation free of any customs restraints.  An absolute exemption is granted from any duties on products coming from a third country and re-exported to a non-EU country.  Legislation to create other FTZs in Genoa and Naples exists, but has yet to be enacted.  A free trade zone operated in Venice for a period but is currently being restructured.

Italy’s “for the South” law (Laws 91of 2017 and amended by Law 123 of 2017) allowed for the creation of eight Special Economic Zones (ZES – Zone Economica Speciale) managed by port authorities in Italy’s less-developed south and islands (the regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily).  Investors will be able to access up to EUR 50 million in tax breaks, hiring incentives, reduced bureaucracy, and reimbursement of the IRAP regional business tax, covered by national allotments of EUR 250 million annually through 2022.  The GOI announced plans to increase the allotment to EUR 300 million, but the increase has not passed into law yet.  The Region of Campania was the first ZES to become operational. The Naples ZES encompasses over 54 million square meters of land in the ports of Naples, Salerno and Castellamare di Stabia, as well as industrial areas and transport hubs in 37 cities and towns in Campania.  Incentives are not automatic as investments must be approved by local government bodies in a procedure governed by the Port Authority of the Central Tyrrhenian Sea.  The Campania Region forecasts that the ZES will create and/or save between 15 and 30 thousand jobs.  A ZES encompassing the port cities of Bari and Brindisi on the Adriatic finished its approval procedure in late 2019, followed by a ZES based around the transshipment port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria.  The zones of the remaining five regions: eastern Sicily (Augusta, Catania, and Siracusa); western Sicily (Palermo); Sardinia (Cagliari); ZES Ionica (Taranto in Puglia and the region of Basilicata); and a ZES to be shared between the ports in Abruzzo and Molise received local approval in 2020.

A special free trade zone was established in late 2015 in the areas within the Emilia-Romagna region that were hit by a May 2012 earthquake and by a January 2014 flood.  The measure aimed to assist the recovery of these areas through tax exemptions amounting to EUR 39.6 million for the years 2015 and 2016 for small enterprises headquartered in these areas.

Currently, goods of foreign origin may be brought into Italy without payment of taxes or duties, as long as the material is to be used in the production or assembly of a product that will be exported.  The free-trade zone law also allows a company of any nationality to employ workers of the same nationality under that country’s labor laws and social security systems.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Italy does not mandate local employment.  Non-EU nationals who would like to establish a business in Italy must have a valid residency permit or be nationals of a country with reciprocal arrangements, such as a bilateral investment agreement, as described at: https://www.esteri.it/mae/en/servizi/stranieri/ .

Work permits and visas are readily available and do not inhibit the mobility of foreign investors.  As a member of the Schengen Area, Italy typically allows short-term visits (up to 90 days) without a visa.  The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has specific information about visa requirements:  http://vistoperitalia.esteri.it/home/en .

As a member of the EU, Italy does not follow forced localization policies in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology.  Italy does not have enforcement procedures for investment performance requirements.  Italy does not require local data storage.  Companies transmitting customer or other business-related data within or outside of the EU must comply with relevant EU privacy regulations.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

According to the World Bank 2020 Doing Business Index, Italy ranks 26 worldwide out of 190 economies for the ease of registering property.  Real property registration takes an average of 16 days, requires four procedures, and costs an average of 4.4 percent of the value of the property.  Real property rights are enforced in Italian courts.  Mortgages and judgment liens against property exist in Italy and the recording system is reliable.  Although Italy does not publish official statistics on property with titling issues, Post estimates that less than 10 percent of the land in Italy does not have clear title.  Italian law includes provisions whereby peaceful and uninterrupted possession of real property for a period of 20 years can, under certain circumstances, allow the occupying party to take title to a property.

Intellectual Property Rights

Italy was removed from the USTR’s Special 301 Watch List in 2014 after the Italian Communications Authority’s (AGCOM’s) issuance of a new regulation to combat digital copyright theft.  The regulation created a process by which rights holders can report online infringements to AGCOM, which will then block access to the domestic and international sites hosting infringing content.  This negated the need for lengthy litigation, which had been required previously.  The system was further strengthened in 2018 when authorities adopted new measures to prevent previously blocked websites from becoming accessible again under different domain names.

In 2019, prosecutors in Italy led a major European investigation and coordinated raids in the Netherlands, France, Greece, Germany, and Bulgaria, resulting in arrests and the seizure of pirate media servers that streamed copyrighted content.  Italian authorities also continue to pursue trademark violations.

The Republic of San Marino (covered by U.S. Embassy Rome) is home to an ongoing transnational case involving the ‘real fakes’ of the U.S. brand SUPREME.  According to the complaint, a San Marino-based violator applied to register the SUPREME trademark with the San Marino Trademark Office in November 2015 through UK-registered International Brand Firm Ltd. (IBF).  According to SUPREME, IBF was able to obtain trademark registrations with the World Intellectual Property Organization and in several third countries.  IBF is now using these registrations as the legal basis for the production and distribution of trademark infringing products internationally.

In June 2019, the European Observatory for Intellectual Property Rights, based in the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in Spain, launched the new single EU platform for IPR protection issues.  EUIPO handles the registration of trademarks, designs and models valid in all 27 member countries of the EU.  EUIPO has also consolidated three databases for case tracking, enforcement, and anti-counterfeiting intelligence.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The GOI welcomes foreign portfolio investments, which are generally subject to the same reporting and disclosure requirements as domestic transactions.  Financial resources flow relatively freely in Italian financial markets and capital is allocated mostly on market terms.  Foreign participation in Italian capital markets is not restricted.  In practice, many of Italy’s largest publicly-traded companies have foreign owners among their primary shareholders.  While foreign investors may obtain capital in local markets and have access to a variety of credit instruments, gaining access to equity capital is difficult.  Italy has a relatively underdeveloped capital market and businesses have a long-standing preference for credit financing.  The limited venture capital available is usually provided by established commercial banks and a handful of venture capital funds.

The London Stock Exchange owns Italy’s only stock exchange:  the Milan Stock Exchange (Borsa Italiana).  The exchange is relatively small — 375 listed companies and a market capitalization of only 36.6 percent of GDP at the end of December 2019.  Although the exchange remains primarily a source of capital for larger Italian firms, Borsa Italiana created “AIM Italia” in 2012 as an alternative exchange with streamlined filing and reporting requirements to encourage SMEs to seek equity financing.  Additionally, the GOI recognizes that Italian firms remain overly reliant on bank financing and has initiated some programs to encourage alternative forms of financing, including venture capital and corporate bonds.  While financial experts have held that slow CONSOB processes and cultural biases against private equity have limited equity financing in Italy, the Italian Association of Private Equity, Venture Capital, and Private Debt (AIFI) indicate investment by private equity funds in Italy decreased by 26 percent from 2018 to 2019, totaling EUR 7,223 million – still a low figure given the size of Italy’s economy.

The Italian Companies and Stock Exchange Commission (CONSOB), is the Italian securities regulatory body:  http://www.consob.it .

Italy’s financial markets are regulated by the Italian securities regulator (CONSOB), Italy’s central bank (the Bank of Italy), and the Institute for the Supervision of Insurance (IVASS).  CONSOB supervises and regulates Italy’s securities markets (e.g., the Milan Stock Exchange).  The European Central Bank (ECB) assumed direct supervisory responsibilities for the 12 largest Italian banks in 2019 and indirect supervision for less significant Italian banks through the Bank of Italy.  IVASS supervises and regulates insurance companies.  Liquidity in the primary markets (e.g., the Milan exchanges) is sufficient to enter and exit sizeable positions, though Italian capital markets are small by international standards.  Liquidity may be limited for certain less-frequently traded investments (e.g., bonds traded on the secondary and OTC markets).

Italian policies generally facilitate the flow of financial resources to markets.  Dividends and royalties paid to non-Italians may be subject to a withholding tax, unless covered by a tax treaty.  Dividends paid to permanent establishments of non-resident corporations in Italy are not subject to the withholding tax.

Italy imposed a financial transactions tax (FTT, a.k.a. Tobin Tax) beginning in 2013.  Financial trading is taxed at 0.1 percent in regulated markets and 0.2 percent in unregulated markets.  The FTT applies to daily balances rather than to each transaction.  The FTT applies to trade in derivatives as well, with fees ranging from EUR 0.025 to EUR 200.  High-frequency trading is also subject to a 0.02 percent tax on trades occurring every 0.5 seconds or faster (e.g., automated trading).  The FTT does not apply to “market makers,” pension and small-cap funds, transactions involving donations or inheritances, purchases of derivatives to cover exchange/interest-rate/raw-materials (commodity market) risks, and financial instruments for companies with a capitalization of less than EUR 500 million.

There are no restrictions on foreigners engaging in portfolio investment in Italy.  Financial services companies incorporated in another EU member state may offer investment services and products in Italy without establishing a local presence.

Since April 2020, investors, Italian or foreign, acquiring a stake in excess of one percent of a publicly traded Italian firm must inform CONSOB but do not need its approval.  Earlier the limit was three percent for non-SMEs and five percent for SMEs.

Any Italian or foreign investor seeking to acquire or increase its stake in an Italian bank equal to or greater than ten percent must receive prior authorization from the BOI.  Acquisitions of holdings that would change the controlling interest of a banking group must be communicated to the BOI at least 30 days in advance of the closing of the transactions.  Approval and advance authorization by the Italian Insurance Supervisory Authority IVASS are required for any significant acquisition in ownership, portfolio transfer, or merger of insurers or reinsurers.   Regulators retain the discretion to reject proposed acquisitions on prudential grounds (e.g., insufficient capital in the merged entity).

Italy has sought to curb widespread tax evasion by improving enforcement and changing popular attitudes.  GOI actions include a public communications effort to reduce tolerance of tax evasion; increased and visible financial police controls on businesses (e.g., raids on businesses in vacation spots at peak holiday periods); and audits requiring individuals to document their income.  In 2014 Italy’s Parliament approved the enabling legislation for a package of tax reforms, many of which entered into force in 2015.  The tax reforms aim to institutionalize OECD best practices to encourage taxpayer compliance, including by reducing the administrative burden for taxpayers through the increased use of technology such as e-filing, pre-completed tax returns, and automated screenings of tax returns for errors and omissions prior to a formal audit.  The reforms also offer additional certainty for taxpayers through programs such as cooperative compliance and advance tax rulings (i.e., binding opinions on tax treatment of transactions in advance) for prospective investors.

The GOI and the Bank of Italy have accepted and respect IMF obligations, including Article VIII.

Money and Banking System

Despite isolated problems at individual Italian banks, the banking system remains sound and capital ratios exceed regulatory thresholds.  However, Italian banks’ profit margins have suffered since 2011 as a result of tightening European supervisory standards and requirements to increase banks’ capital.  The recession brought a pronounced worsening of the quality of banks’ assets, which further dampened banks’ profitability.  The ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) to total outstanding loans decreased significantly since its height in 2017.  Currently net NPLs stand at EUR 26 billion (February 2020 data).  In the last quarter of 2019, the ratio of new NPLs to outstanding loans was equal to 1.2%, against a level of 2.1% in the last quarter of 2007, on the eve of the global financial crisis.  The share of NPLs in banks’ total loans continues to fall, also thanks to large-scale disposals made by a large number of banks.  At the end of December 2019, The BOI) reported the NPL ratio was 3.3%, net of provisions — down from 9.8% in December 2015.

The GOI is also taking steps to facilitate acquisitions of NPLs by outside investors.  In December 2016, the GOI created a EUR 20 billion bank rescue fund to assist struggling Italian banks in need of liquidity or capital support.  Italy’s fourth-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), became the first bank to avail itself of this fund in January 2019.  The GOI also facilitated the sale of two struggling “Veneto banks” (Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca) to Intesa San Paolo in mid-2017.  In January 2019, Banca Carige, the smallest Italian bank under ECB supervision, was put under special administration.

Italy’s central bank, the BOI, is a member of the euro system and the European Central Bank (ECB).  In addition to ECB supervision of larger Italian banks, BOI maintains strict supervisory standards.  The Italian banking system weathered the 2007-2013 financial crisis without resorting to government intervention.

The banking system in Italy has consolidated since the financial crisis, though additional consolidation is needed, according to the OECD and ECB.  In 2018, the Italian banking landscape included 58 (down from 70) banking groups comprising 100 banks (down from 129), 327 (down from 393) banks not belonging to a banking group, and 78 (down from 82) branches of foreign banks.  The GOI is taking further steps to encourage consolidation and facilitate acquisitions by outside investors.  The Italian banking sector remains overly concentrated on physical bank branches for delivering services, further contributing to sector-wide inefficiency and low profitability.  Electronic banking is available in Italy, but adoption remains below euro-zone averages and non-cash transactions are relatively uncommon.

In July 2019, Italy’s largest bank by assets, UniCredit, reported plans to cut 10,000 jobs from its global workforce under its new business plan.  This includes jobs across Europe as well as in Italy where the bank has the largest number of employees.  According to media reports, UniCredit’s business plan aims to cut labor costs by 10 percent through 2020-2023, with workforce reductions mostly handled via early retirements.  According to analysts, Italy’s banking sector is overstaffed by an estimated 275,000 workers.  Technological changes and evolution of the banking core business, combined with the reduced margins of profitability have pushed small and big banks, like UniCredit, to cut costs.

In 2019, the BOI said the profitability of Italian banks was broadly in line with that of European peers.  The BOI noted that the annualized return of return on equity (ROE) at 5.0% net of extraordinary components was below the estimated cost of equity, and it expects further benefits from ongoing restructuring and consolidation in the banking sector.  The process is especially strong among small cooperative banks, and the new framework is expected to strengthen their capacity to attract investors.

Most non-insurance investment products are marketed by banks, and tend to be debt instruments.  Italian retail investors are conservative, valuing the safety of government bonds over most other investment vehicles.  Less than ten percent of Italian households own Italian company stocks directly.  Several banks have established private banking divisions to cater to high-net-worth individuals with a broad array of investment choices, including equities and mutual funds.

Credit is allocated on market terms, with foreign investors eligible to receive credit in Italy.  In general, credit in Italy remains largely bank-driven.  In practice, foreigners may encounter limited access to finance, as Italian banks may be reluctant to lend to prospective borrowers (even Italians) absent a preexisting relationship.  Although a wide array of credit instruments are available, bank credit remains constrained.  Weak demand, combined with risk aversion by banks, continues to limit lending, especially to smaller firms.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance and BOI have indicated interest in blockchain technologies to transform the banking sector.  The Association of Italian Banks (ABI) continued its testing of an application through 2019, with a growing number of banks scheduled to take part in pilot projects throughout 2020.  By the end of 2020 the Italian banking sector is expected to have distributed ledger technology at the core of the country’s banking system.

According to the Financial Action Task Force, Italy has a strong legal and institutional framework to fight money laundering and terrorist financing and authorities have a good understanding of the risks the country faces.  There are areas where improvements are needed, such as its money-laundering investigative and prosecutorial action on risks associated with self-laundering, stand-alone money laundering, and foreign predicate offenses, and the abuse of legal persons.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In accordance with EU directives, Italy has no foreign exchange controls.  There are no restrictions on currency transfers; there are only reporting requirements.  Banks are required to report any transaction over EUR 1,000 due to money laundering and terrorism financing concerns.  Profits, payments, and currency transfers may be freely repatriated.  Residents and non-residents may hold foreign exchange accounts.  In 2016, the GOI raised the limit on cash payments for goods or services to EUR 3,000.  Payments above this amount must be made electronically.  Enforcement remains uneven.  The rule exempts e-money services, banks, and other financial institutions, but not payment services companies.

Italy is a member of the European Monetary Union (EMU), with the euro as its official currency.  Exchange rates are floating.

Remittance Policies

There are no limitations on remittances, though transactions above EUR 1,000 must be reported. In December 2018 Parliament passed a decree which imposed a 1.5 percent tax on remittances sent outside of the EU via money transfer.  The government estimates that the tax on remittances to countries outside of the EU will raise several hundred million euros per year.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The state-owned national development bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) launched a strategic wealth fund in 2011, now called CDP Equity (formerly Fondo Strategico Italiano – FSI).  CDP Equity has EUR 3.5 billion in capital and has invested EUR 3.7 billion in eleven portfolio companies.  CDP Equity generally adopts a passive role by purchasing minority interests as a non-managerial investor.  It does not hold a majority stake in any of its portfolio companies.  CDP Equity invests solely in Italian companies with the goal of furthering the expansion of companies in growth sectors.  CDP Equity provides information on its funding, investment policies, criteria, and procedures on its website (http://en.cdpequity.it/ ).  CDP Equity is open to capital investments from outside institutional investors, including foreign investors.  CDP Equity is a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds and follows the Santiago Principles.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Italian government has in the past owned and operated a number of monopoly or dominant companies in certain strategic sectors.  However, beginning in the 1990s and through the early 2000s, the government began to privatize most of these state-owned enterprises (SOEs).  Notwithstanding this privatization effort, the GOI retains 100 percent ownership of the national railroad company (Ferrovie dello Stato) and road network company (ANAS), both of which merged in January 2018.  The GOI holds a 99.56 percent share of RAI, the national radio and television broadcasting network; and retains a controlling interest, either directly and/or through the state-controlled sovereign wealth fund Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), in companies such as shipbuilder Fincantieri (71.6 percent), postal and financial services provider Poste Italiane (65 percent), electricity provider ENEL (23.6 percent), oil and gas major Eni (30 percent), defense conglomerate Leonardo-Finmeccanica (30.2 percent), natural gas transmission company Snam (30.1 percent), as well as electricity transmission provider Terna (29.85 percent).

However, these companies are operating in a competitive environment (domestically and internationally) and are increasingly responsive to market-driven decision-making rather than GOI demands.  In addition, many of the state-controlled entities are publicly traded, which provides additional transparency and corporate governance obligations, including equitable treatment for non-governmental minority shareholders.  Italy’s parastatals (CDP, Ferrovie dello Stato, Eni, ENEL, ENAV, Poste Italiane and Leonardo) generated EUR 2.4 billion return on investment in 2018 for the GOI.  The largest contributor was CDP (EUR 1.256 billion) and the second largest was Eni (EUR 671 million).

SOEs are subject to the same tax treatment and budget constraints as fully private firms.  Additionally, industries with SOEs remain open to private competition.

As an EU member, Italy is covered by EU government procurement rules.  As an OECD member, Italy adheres to the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-owned Enterprises.

Privatization Program

In 2016 the Italian government committed to privatize EUR 16 billion in state-owned assets, although ensuing privatizations have not achieved this target.  The privatizations fall into two categories:  minority stakes in SOEs and underutilized real estate holdings.  In 2016, the GOI sold a minority stake in the air traffic controller (ENAV).  Revenues in 2016 were well below expectations due to the unfavorable markets that resulted in the postponement of other planned privatizations, including a minority share of the national rail network (Ferrovie dello Stato) and the national postal provider (Poste Italiane).    The GOI’s budget planning document estimates that in 2020-2021 it will accrue EUR 3 billion in revenues from privatizations.

The GOI solicits and actively encourages foreign investors to participate in its privatizations, which are non-discriminatory and transparent.  The GOI sells SOE shares through the Milan Stock Exchange (Borsa Italiana), while real estate sales are conducted through public bidding processes (typically online).  The Italian Public Property Agency (Agenzia del Demanio) administers real estate sales:  https://venditaimmobili.agenziademanio.it/AsteDemanio/sito.php .  The Agency has created a centralized registry with information on individual parcels for sale or long-term lease: http://www.investinitalyrealestate.com/en/ .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a general awareness of expectations and standards for responsible business conduct (RBC) in Italy.  Enforcement of civil society disputes with businesses is generally fair, though the slow pace of civil justice may delay individuals’ ability to seek effective redress for adverse business impacts.  In addition, EU laws and standards on RBC apply in Italy.  In the event Italian courts fail to protect an individual’s rights under EU law, it is possible to seek redress to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

CONSOB has enacted corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders.  Information on corporate governance standards is available at: http://www.consob.it/c/portal/layout?p_l_id=892052&p_v_l_s_g_id=0 .

As an OECD member, Italy supports and promotes the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (“Guidelines”), which are recommendations by governments to multinational enterprises for conducting a risk-based due diligence approach to achieve responsible business conduct (RBC).  The Guidelines provide voluntary principles and standards in a variety of areas including employment and industrial relations, human rights, environment, information disclosure, competition, consumer protection, taxation, and science and technology.   (See OECD Guidelines:  http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/12/21/1903291.pdf ).

The Italian National Contact Point (NCP) for the Guidelines is located in the Ministry of Economic Development.  The NCP promotes the Guidelines; disseminates related information; and encourages collaboration among national and international institutions, the business community, and civil society.  The NCP also promotes Italy’s National Action Plan on Corporate Social Responsibility which is available online.  See Italian NCP: http://pcnitalia.sviluppoeconomico.gov.it/en /.

Independent NGOs are able to operate freely in Italy.  Additionally, Italy’s three largest trade union confederations actively promote and monitor RBCs.  They serve on the advisory body to Italy’s National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  Unions are able to work freely in Italy.

Italy encourages responsible supply chains and has provided operational guidelines for Italian businesses to assist them in supply chain due diligence.  Italy is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs works internationally to promote the adoption of best practices.

9. Corruption

Corruption and organized crime continue to be significant impediments to investment and economic growth in parts of Italy, despite efforts by successive governments to reduce risks.  Italian law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials.  The government has usually implemented these laws effectively, but officials sometimes have engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.  While anti-corruption laws and trials garner headlines, they have been only somewhat effective in stopping corruption.  Italy has steadily improved in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, in overall rank and score every year since 2014, and ranked 51 in the 2019 Index.

In December 2018 Italy’s Parliament passed an anti-corruption bill that introduced new provisions to combat corruption in the public sector and regulate campaign finance.  The measures in the bill changed the statute of limitations for corruption-related crimes as well as other crimes and made it more difficult for people to “run out the clock” on their respective cases.  Italy’s anti-money-laundering laws also apply to public officials, defined as any person who has been entrusted with important political functions, as well as their immediate family members.  (This encompasses anyone from the head of state to members of the executive body in state-owned companies.)

U.S. individuals and firms operating or investing in foreign markets should take the time to become familiar with the anticorruption laws of both the foreign country and the United States in order to comply with them and, where appropriate, they should seek the advice of legal counsel.  While the U.S. Embassy has not received specific complaints of corruption from U.S. companies operating in Italy, commercial and economic officers are familiar with high-profile cases that may affect U.S. companies.  The Embassy has received requests for assistance from companies facing a lack of transparency and complicated bureaucracy, particularly in the sphere of government procurement and specifically in the aerospace industry.  There have been no reports of government failure to protect NGOs that investigate corruption (such as Transparency International Italy).

Italy has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

Autorità Nazionale Anticorruzione (ANAC)
Via Marco Minghetti, 10 – 00187 Roma
Phone:  +39 06 367231
Fax:  +39 06 36723274
Email:  protocollo@pec.anticorruzione.it

Contact Info page:  http://www.anticorruzione.it/portal/public/classic/MenuServizio/Contatti 

ANAC’s whistleblowing web page is:  http://www.anticorruzione.it/portal/public/classic/Servizi/ServiziOnline/SegnalazioneWhistleblowing 

Transparency International Italia
P.le Carlo Maciachini 11
20159 Milano – Italy
T:  +39 02 40093560
F:  +39 02 406829
E:  info@transparency.it
General web site:  www.transparency.it 
Corruption Specific:  https://www.transparency.it/alac/ 

10. Political and Security Environment

Politically motivated violence in Italy is rare and most often connected to Italian internal developments or social issues.  Italian authorities and foreign diplomatic facilities have found bombs outside public buildings, have received bomb threats, and have been targets of letter bombs, fire bombs, and Molotov cocktails in the past several years.  These attacks have generally occurred at night, and they have not targeted or injured U.S. citizens.  Political violence is not a threat to foreign investments in Italy, but corruption, especially associated with organized crime, can be a major hindrance, particularly in the south.

Italy-specific travel information and advisories can be found at: www.travel.state.gov.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

As a result of its longest recession since World War II, Italy’s unemployment rate rose to a peak of 13.1 percent in November 2014.  Italy’s unemployment rate subsequently ebbed to 9.7 percent in February 2020 but is still among the highest in Europe and above the Eurozone average of 7.3 percent.  Despite the recent improvement, the GOI and the European Commission forecast Italy’s unemployment rate will return to double digits with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced Italy into massive use of unemployment benefits.

The youth unemployment rate more than doubled during the financial crisis that began in 2008, exceeding 43 percent by 2014.  Since then youth unemployment has declined but remains high at 29.6 percent in February 2020, one of the highest among EU members.  The rate is expected to increase due to the economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Central Institute of Statistics estimates there are 2.2 million young Italians not enrolled in education, employment or training (NEETs), more than 22 percent of all young Italians, which is one of the highest percentages in the EU.  Long-term unemployment is also elevated, leading to a permanent reduction in human capital and earnings potential.

Italy’s labor force participation rates are among the lowest in the EU, particularly among women, the young, and the elderly, and particularly in the south.  Low labor force participation is partially attributable to the informal economy, which Italy’s statistics agency estimates as at least 12 percent of Italian GDP.  January 2019 marked the highest labor force participation rate in Italy since the data series began in 2004:  65.7 percent of working-age Italians.

The productivity of Italy’s labor force is also below the EU average.  Many Italian employers report an inability to find qualified candidates for highly skilled vacancies, demonstrating significant skills mismatches in the Italian labor market.  Many well-educated Italians find more attractive career opportunities outside of Italy, with large numbers of Italians taking advantage of EU freedom of movement to work in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or Germany.  There is no reliable measure of Italians working overseas, as many expatriate workers do not report their whereabouts to the Italian government.  Skilled labor shortages are a particular problem in Italy’s industrialized north.

On paper, companies may bring in a non-EU employee after the government-run employment office has certified that no qualified, unemployed Italian is available to fill the position.  In reality, the cumbersome and lengthy process acts as a deterrent to foreign firms seeking to comply with the law; language barriers also prevent outsiders from competing for Italian positions.  Work visas are subject to annual quotas, although intra-company transfers are exempt from quota limitations.

In 2018 the newly-elected government introduced the so-called “Dignity Decree,” which rolled back some key structural reforms to Italy’s labor market adopted as part of the Jobs Act by the previous center-left government.  The Dignity Decree extended incentives to hire people under 35 years old, set limits on short-term contracts, and made it more costly to fire workers.

Indefinite employment contracts signed before March 2015 are governed by the June 2012 labor regime, which allows firms to conduct layoffs and firings with lump sum payments.  Under the 2012 system, according to Article 18 of the workers’ statute of 1970, judges can order reinstatement of dismissed employees (with back pay) if they find the dismissal was a pretext for discriminatory or disciplinary dismissal.  In practice, dismissed employees reserved the right to challenge their dismissal indefinitely, often using the threat of protracted legal proceedings or an adverse court ruling to negotiate additional severance packages with employers.

However, indefinite employment contracts signed after March 2015 are governed by the rules established under the Jobs Act labor market reforms, which provide for employment contracts with protections increasing with job tenure.  During the first 36 months of employment, firms may dismiss employees for bona fide economic reasons.  Under the Jobs Act regime, dismissed employees must appeal their dismissal within 60 days and reinstatements are limited.

Regardless of the reason for termination of employment, all former employees are entitled to receive mandatory severance payments from their employer (TFR – trattamento di fine rapporto), equal to 7.4 percent of the employee’s annual gross compensation for each year worked.

Other Jobs Act measures enacted in 2015 include universal unemployment and maternity benefits, as well as a reduced number of official labor contract templates (from 42 to six).  The GOI’s unemployment insurance (NASPI) provides up to six months of coverage for laid-off workers.  The GOI also provides worker retraining and job placement assistance, but services vary by region and implementation of national active labor market policies remains in progress.

Italy also offers other social safety net protections to all residents, designed to tackle poverty.  The previous government implemented an anti-poverty plan (Reddito di Inclusione, or “Inclusion Income”) aimed at providing some financial relief and training to homeless individuals and people with income below the poverty level.  In the 2019 budget, the previous government introduced the so-called Citizenship Income (Reddito di Cittadinanza), which replaced and broadened the Inclusion Income program of 2017.  The Citizenship Income program provides a basic income of EUR 780 a month to eligible citizens; the GOI estimates one million workers are potentially eligible for this benefit.  The program also acts as an employment agency to a portion of those receiving the Citizenship Income.  The annual cost of the program is estimated to be EUR 6 billion a year.  The Citizenship Income goes to 1.1 million households, for a total of 2.5 million people.

The 2019 budget and the associated decree and law also implemented an early retirement scheme (a.k.a. Quota 100) changing the pension law and permitting earlier retirement for eligible workers with 62 years of age and 38 years of work seniority.

Other Jobs Act measures, including a statutory minimum wage, have not yet been implemented, although in July 2018 a national minimum wage bill was introduced in Parliament.  Italy does not currently have a national minimum wage, as wages are set through sector-wide collective bargaining.  An agency for Job Training and Placement (ANPAL) was established in 2016 to coordinate (with Italian regions) implementation of many labor policies.  ANPAL overseas implementation of the Assegno di Riallocazione (a “relocation allowance,”), an initiative to provide unemployment benefits to workers willing to move to different regions of the country),and the related special wage guarantee fund (Cassa Integrazione Straordinaria) that provides stipends for retraining.  The “reallocation check” funds are disbursed to the agency in charge of the retraining and job placement only after the candidate gets a new job.  Citizenship Income and ANPAL are expected to play a key role in helping eligible workers who are willing to work to find a job.

Historical regional labor market disparities remain unchanged, with the southern third of the country posting a significantly higher unemployment rate (e.g., more than 25 percent in Calabria) than northern and central Italy (e.g., approximately 4 percent in Bolzano).  Despite these differences, internal migration within Italy remains modest, while industry-wide national collective bargaining agreements set equal wages across the entire country.  Immigrants from Eastern Europe and North Africa often are drawn to the north by the opportunities created there by shortages of unskilled and semi-skilled labor.

Italy is an International Labor Organization (ILO) member country.  Italy does not waive existing labor laws in order to attract or retain investments.  Terms and conditions of employment are periodically fixed by collective labor agreements in different professions.  Most Italian unions are grouped into four major national confederations: the General Italian Confederation of Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (CISL), the Italian Union of Labor (UIL), and the General Union of Labor (UGL).  The first three organizations are affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), while UGL has been associated with the World Confederation of Labor (WCL).  The confederations negotiate national-level collective bargaining agreements with employer associations, which are binding on all employers in a sector or industry irrespective of geographical location.

Collective bargaining is widespread in Italy, occurring at the national-level (primarily to reflect inflation and cost-of-living adjustments) and industry-level (to reflect productivity and profitability).  Firm-level collective bargaining is limited.  The Italian Constitution provides that unions may reach collective agreements that are binding on all workers.  There are no official estimates of the percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements.  A 2014 estimate from union officials projected collective bargaining coverage at 80 percent (for national-level bargaining), with less coverage for industry-level agreements and minimal coverage for company-level agreements.

Collective agreements may last up to three years, though recent practice is to renew collective agreements annually.  Collective bargaining establishes the minimum standards for employment, though employers retain the discretion to apply more favorable treatment to some employees covered by the agreement.

Labor disputes are handled through the civil court system, though they are subject to specific procedures.  Before entering the civil court system, parties must first attempt to resolve their disputes through conciliation (administered by the local office of the Ministry of Labor) and/or through specific union-agreed dispute resolution procedures.

In cases of proposed mass layoffs or facility closures, the Ministry of Economic Development may convene a tripartite negotiation (Ministry, company, and union representatives) to attempt to reach a mutually acceptable agreement to avoid the layoff or closure.

There have been no recent strikes that posed investment risks.  The Italian Constitution recognizes an employee’s right to strike.  Strikes are permitted in practice, but are typically short-term (e.g., one working day) to draw attention to specific areas of concern.  In addition, workers (or former employees) commonly participate in demonstrations to show opposition to proposed job cuts or facility closings, but these demonstrations have not threatened investments.  In addition, frequent strikes by employees of local transportation providers may limit citizens’ mobility.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

DFC (formerly OPIC) does not currently operate programs in Italy.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 €1,787,664 2018 $2,083,864 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 €10,696 2018 $38,479 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 €36,670 2018 $38,626 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 23.9% 2018 20.8% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Italian GDP data are taken from ISTAT, the official statistics agency.  ISTAT publishes preliminary year end GDP data in early February and issues revised data in early March.  Italian FDI data are from the Bank of Italy and are the latest available; new data are released in May.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
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 $426,429 100% Total Outward $554,303 100%
France $92,843 22% The Netherlands $64,351 12%
The Netherlands $75,230 18% Luxembourg $44,905 8%
Luxembourg $75,105 18% Germany $44,134 8%
United Kingdom $55,049 13% United States $42,275 8%
Germany $33,810 8% Spain $40,186 7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,648,337 100% All Countries $1,009,969 100% All Countries $638,368 100%
Luxembourg 686,927 42% Luxembourg $661,365 65% Spain $107,486 17%
France 170,664 10% Ireland $144,680 14% France $98,665 15%
Ireland 161,766 10% France $72,008 7% United States $95,712 15%
United States 139,134 8% United States $43,421 4% Germany $52,897 8%
Spain 112,195 7% United Kingdom $23,329 2% Nether-lands $49,425 8%

The statistics above show Italy’s largest investment partners to be within the European Union and the United States.  This is consistent with Italy being fully integrated with its EU partners and the United States.

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Rome
Economic Section
Attn:  George Sarmiento
Via Vittorio Veneto, 119
Tel. 39-06-4674-2867
RomeECON@state.gov

Mailing Address:
Unit 9500
Attn:  Economic Section
DPO, AE 09624
Email:  RomeECON@state.gov 
Tel:  +39 06 4674 2107

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