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 stable legal environment, reliable infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, positive social climate, and world-class research and development.
Foreign investment in Germany mainly originates from other European countries, the United States, and Japan, although FDI from emerging economies (and China) has grown over 2015-2018 from low levels. The United States is the leading source of non-European FDI in Germany.
The German government continues to strengthen provisions for national security screening of inward investment in reaction to an increasing number of high-risk acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors in recent years, particularly from China. 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 enacted in 2020 to implement the 2019 EU FDI Screening Regulation, which Germany strongly supported, include to:
a) facilitate 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. A further amendment, in force since May 2021, introduced a list of sensitive sectors and technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructure) including artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, specialized robots, semiconductors, additive manufacturing and quantum technology, among others. Foreign investors who seek to acquire at least 10% of voting rights of a German company in one of those fields would be required to notify the government and potentially become subject to an investment review.
German legal, regulatory, and accounting systems can be complex but are generally transparent and consistent with developed-market norms. Businesses operate within a well-regulated, albeit relatively 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.
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 relatively high tax rates, stringent environmental regulations, 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.
Companies which seek to open a branch office in Germany without establishing a new legal entity, (e.g., for the provision of employee placement services, such as providing temporary office support, domestic help, or executive search services), must register and have at least one representative located 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 interest by foreign investors in both Mittelstand (mid-sized) and blue chip German companies. Amendments to implement the 2019 EU Screening Regulation are already in force or have been drafted as of March 2021. One major change in the amendments allows for authorities to make “prospective impairment” of public order and security the new trigger for an investment review, in place of the former standard (which requires a de facto threat).
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2020” Index provides 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).
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. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020, the median duration to register a business in Germany is 8 days.
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.
U.S.-based traders, who seek to sell in Germany, e.g., via commercial platforms, are required to register with one specific tax authority in Bonn, which can lead to significant delays due to capacity issues.
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. In 2020, the government issued investment guarantees amounting to €900 million for investment projects in 13 countries, with the majority of those in China and India.
2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
Germany does not have a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with the United States. However, a Friendship, Commerce and Navigation (FCN) treaty dating from 1956 contains many BIT-relevant provisions including national treatment, most-favored nation, free capital flows, and full protection and security.
Germany has bilateral investment treaties in force with 125 countries and territories. Treaties with former sovereign entities (including the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (CSFR), the Soviet Union, Sudan, and Yugoslavia) continue to apply in an additional seven cases. These are indicated with an asterisk (*) and have not been taken into account in regard to the total number of treaties. Treaties are in force with the following states, territories, or former sovereign entities. For a full list of treaties containing investment provisions that are currently in force, see the UNCTAD Navigator at http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/78#iiaInnerMenu.
Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; Angola; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belarus; Benin; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Botswana; Brunei; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cambodia; Cameroon; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad; Chile; China (People’s Republic); Congo (Republic); Congo (Democratic Republic); Costa Rica; Croatia; Cuba; Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (CSFR); Czech Republic*; Dominica; Egypt; El Salvador; Estonia; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Georgia; Ghana; Greece; Guatemala; Guinea; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Hong Kong; Hungary; Iran; Ivory Coast; Jamaica; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Republic of Korea; Kosovo*; Kuwait; Kyrgyzstan; Laos; Latvia; Lebanon; Lesotho; Liberia; Libya; Lithuania; Madagascar; Malaysia; Mali; Malta; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro*; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Nepal; Nicaragua; Niger; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Oman; Pakistan; Palestinian Territories; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russia*; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Serbia*; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Slovak Republic*; Slovenia; Somalia; South Sudan*; Soviet Union; Sri Lanka; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Sudan; Syria; Tajikistan; Tanzania; Thailand; Togo; Trinidad & Tobago; Tunisia; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Uganda; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; Uruguay; Uzbekistan; Venezuela; Vietnam; Yemen; Yugoslavia; Zambia; and Zimbabwe.
A BIT with Bolivia was terminated in May 2014, a BIT with South Africa was terminated in October 2014, BITs with India and Indonesia were terminated in June 2017, a BIT with Ecuador was terminated in May 2018 and a BIT with Poland was terminated in October 2019.
Germany has ratified treaties with the following countries and territories that have not yet entered into force:
(*) Previous treaties apply
Bilateral Taxation Treaties:
Taxation of U.S. firms within Germany is governed by the “Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Respect to Taxes on Income.” A Protocol of 2006 updates the existing tax treaty and includes several changes, including a zero-rate provision for subsidiary-parent dividends, a more restrictive limitation on benefits provision, and a mandatory binding arbitration provision. In 2013, Germany and the United States signed an agreement on legal and administrative cooperation and information exchange with regard to the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. (Full document at https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Content/DE/Standardartikel/Themen/Steuern/Internationales_Steuerrecht/Staatenbezogene_Informationen/Laender_A_Z/Verein_Staaten/2013-10-15-USA-Abkommen-FATCA.html).
As of January 2021, Germany had bilateral tax treaties with a total of 96 countries, including with the United States, and, regarding inheritance taxes, with 6 countries. It has special bilateral treaties with respect to income and assets by shipping and aerospace companies with 11 countries and has treaties relating to the exchange of information and administrative assistance with 27 countries.
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 for public comment. According to the Joint Rules of Procedure, ministries should consult the concerned industries’ associations , consumer organizations, environmental, and other NGOs. The consultation period generally takes two to eight weeks.
The German Institute for Standardization (DIN), Germany’s independent and sole national standards body representing Germany in non-governmental international standards organizations, is open to German subsidiaries of foreign companies.
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 transposed by the Member States in their respective legislative processes, which is regularly observed in Germany.
EU Member States must transpose 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 to 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 stable and predictable. 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 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 Chambers 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. In November 2020, Baden-Wuerttemberg opened the first commercial court in Germany with locations in Stuttgart and Mannheim, with the option to choose English language proceedings.
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. In at least one case it prohibited an acquisition – the planned takeover of German wireless communications technology developer IMST GmbH by Chinese state-owned defense company CASIC in December 2020. However, even without a formal decision, the mere prospect of rejection has reportedly caused foreign investors to pull out of prospective deals in the past. All national security decisions by the ministry can be appealed in administrative courts.
There is no general requirement for investors to obtain approval for any acquisition unless the target company poses a potential national security risk, such as operating or providing services relating to critical infrastructure, , is a media company, or operates in the health sector. The threshold for initiating such an investment review is an 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, this certificate shall be deemed as granted.
Special rules additionally 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 has continuously amended domestic investment screening provisions in recent years to transpose the relevant EU framework and address evolving security risks. An amendment in June 2017 clarified the scope for review and gave 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.
With further amendments in 2020, Germany implemented the 2019 EU Screening Regulation.
The amendments a) introduced 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.
a) introduced 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 now trigger a review, and the healthcare industry is now considered a sensitive sector to which the stricter 10% threshold applies. In May 2021, a further amendment entered into force which introduced a list of sensitive sectors and technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructures), including artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, specialized robots, semiconductors, additive manufacturing 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. The screening can now also take into account “stockpiling acquisitions” by the same investor, “atypical control investments” where an investor seeks additional influence in company operations via side contractual agreements, or combined acquisitions by multiple investors, if all are controlled by one foreign government.
The German government ensures competition on a level playing field on the basis of two main legal codes:
The Law against Limiting Competition (GesetzgegenWettbewerbsbeschränkungen– GWB) is the legal basis for limiting 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 Economic Affairs and Energy can provide a permit under specific conditions.
A June 2017 amendment to the GWB expanded the reach of the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) to include internet and data-based business models and the FCO has shown an interest in investigating large internet firms. A February 2019 FCO investigation found that Facebook had abused its dominant position in social media to harvest user data. Facebook challenged the FCO’s decision in court, but in June 2020, Germany’s highest court upheld the FCO’s action. In March 2021, the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf referred the case to the European Court of Justice for guidance. The FCO has been continued to challenge the conduct of large tech platforms, particularly with regard to the use of user data. Another FCO case against Facebook, initiated in December 2020, regards the integration of the company’s Oculus virtual reality platform into its broader platform, creating mandatory registration of Facebook accounts for all Oculus users. In November 2018, the FCO initiated an investigation of Amazon over alleged abuse of market power; a July 2019 decision by the FCO led Amazon to make the requested changes to their terms of business. The case was subsequently closed.
In 2021, a further amendment to the GWB, known as the Digitalization Act, entered into force codifying tools that allow greater scrutiny of digital platforms by the FCO, in order to “better counteract abusive behavior by companies with paramount cross-market significance for competition.” The law aims to prohibit large platforms from taking certain actions that put competitors at a disadvantage, including in markets for related services or up and down the supply chain – even before the large platform becomes dominant in those secondary markets. To achieve this goal, the amendments expand the powers of the FCO to act earlier and more broadly. Due to the relatively modest number of German platforms, the amendments will primarily affect U.S. companies. The FCO is already applying the new regulations in ongoing cases against Facebook and Amazon, and opened two new cases against Google.
While the focus of the GWB is to preserve market access, the Law against Unfair Competition seeks to protect competitors, consumers and other market participants against unfair competitive behavior by companies. This law is primarily invoked in regional courts by private claimants rather than by the FCO.
Expropriation and Compensation
German law provides that private property can be expropriated for public purposes only in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with established principles of constitutional and international law. There is due process and transparency of purpose, and investors and lenders to expropriated entities receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.
The Berlin state government is currently reviewing a petition for a referendum submitted by a citizens’ initiative which calls for the expropriation of residential apartments owned by large corporations. At least one party in the governing coalition officially supports the proposal. Certain long-running expropriation cases date back to the Nazi and communist regimes. During the 2008/9 global financial crisis, the parliament adopted a law allowing emergency expropriation if the insolvency of a bank would endanger the financial system, but the measure expired without having been used.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Germany is a member of both the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under certain conditions.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors in Germany are extremely rare. According to the UNCTAD database of known 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). The body offers commercial arbitration in accordance with UNCITRAL arbitration standards. ”Book 10” of the German Code of Civil Procedure addresses arbitration proceedings. The International Chamber of Commerce has an office in Berlin. In addition, local chambers of commerce and industry offer arbitration services.
German insolvency law, as enshrined in the Insolvency Code, supports and promotes restructuring. If a business or the owner of a business becomes insolvent, or a business is over-indebted, insolvency proceedings can be initiated by filing for insolvency; legal persons are obliged to do so. Insolvency itself is not a crime, but deliberately late filing for insolvency is.
Under a regular insolvency procedure, the insolvent business is generally broken up in order to recover assets through the sale of individual items or rights or parts of the company. Proceeds can then be paid out to creditors in the insolvency proceedings. The distribution of monies to creditors follows detailed instructions in the Insolvency Code.
Equal treatment of creditors is enshrined in the Insolvency Code. Some creditors have the right to claim property back. Post-adjudication preferred creditors are served out of insolvency assets during the insolvency procedure. Ordinary creditors are served on the basis of quotas from the remaining insolvency assets. Secondary creditors, including shareholder loans, are only served if insolvency assets remain after all others have been served. Germany ranks fourth in the global ranking of “Resolving Insolvency” in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, with a recovery rate of 79.8 cents on the dollar.
In December 2020, the Bundestag passed legislation implementing the EU Restructuring Directive, to modernize and make German restructuring and insolvency law more effective.
The Bundestag also passed legislation granting temporary relief to companies facing insolvency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including temporary suspensions from the obligation to file for insolvency under strict requirements.
4. Industrial Policies
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.
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.
There are no general localization requirements for data storage in Germany. However, the invalidation of the Privacy Shield by the European Court of Justice in July 2020 has led to increased calls for data storage in Germany, e.g., with regard to U.S. cloud service providers used by digital health app developers. In recent years, German and European cloud providers have also sought to market the domestic location of their servers as a competitive advantage.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The German Government adheres to a policy of national treatment, which considers property owned by foreigners as fully protected under German law. In Germany, mortgage approvals are based on recognized and reliable collateral. Secured interests in property, both chattel and real, are recognized and enforced. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, it takes an average of 52 days to register property in Germany.
The German Land Register Act dates back to 1897. 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 occasionally included in USTR’s Notorious Markets Reviews. 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 2019 can be found under: https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/jahresstatistik_2019.html.
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 Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, 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.
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. Germany is currently drafting legislation to implement EU Directive 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market.
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 for an EU Trade Mark and/or Registered Community Design at the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). These provide protection for industrial design or trademarks in the entire EU market. Both national trademarks and European Union Trade Marks (EUTMs) 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 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 Prosecution 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.
Statistics on the seizure of counterfeit goods are available through the German Customs Authority (Zoll): https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/statistik_gew_rechtsschutz_2019.html;jsessionid=F8B0524DFF4F1ADF99DEBB858E4CAD31.internet412?nn=305648
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 European Central Bank and the national central banks of the 19 member states, 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– continued to outperform other EU countries.German sovereign bonds continue to 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 January 2021) 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 374 at the end of 2019 and the number of cooperative banks has dropped from 1,234 to 814. 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 about 265 percent of end-2019 GDP with banking sector assets worth €9.1 trillion. 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 merger with WGZ Bank 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 deteriorated 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-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, big banks a lower return, and Landesbanken a –2.45 percent return). Both return on equity and return on assets were at their lowest level since 2010.
Brexit promptedsome banking activities to relocate from the United Kingdom to the EU, with many foreign banks (notably U.S. 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.
In 2020, the insolvency of financial services provider WireCard revealed certain weaknesses in German banking supervision. WireCard, which many viewed as a promising innovative format for the processing of credit card transactions, managed to conceal inadequate equity from supervisory authorities while also inflating its actual turnover. The Wirecard insolvency led to the replacement of the head of banking supervisory authority BaFin and triggered both an ongoing overhaul of the German banking supervision and a continuing parliamentary investigation.
It remains unclear how the 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. So far, German banks have come through the crisis unscathed thanks to extensive liquidity assistance from the ECB, moratoria and fiscal support for the economy. Nevertheless, 25 German banks were downgraded in 2020 and many more were put on negative watch, though CDS spreads for the two largest private banks have fallen dramatically since the height of the crisis in March 2020 and are currently around pre-COVID levels. The second and third COVID-waves, however, are likely to take a toll on credit institutions and 2021 could prove to be the toughest test for banks since the 2008/9 global financial crisis. According to the Bundesbank, loan defaults by German banks could quadruple to 0.8 percent of the loan portfolio (or €13 billion). The Bundesbank’s focus in particular is on aircraft loans. According to Bloomberg’s calculations, the major German regional banks have lent €15 billion for aircraft financing. At Deka alone, the asset manager of the savings banks, the ratio of non-performing loans in aircraft financing is at a relatively high 7.7 percent.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
As a member of the Eurozone, Germany uses the euro as its currency, along with 18 other EU countries. The Eurozone has no restrictions on the transfer or conversion of its currency, and the exchange rate is freely determined in the foreign exchange market.
The Deutsche Bundesbank is the independent central bank of the Federal Republic of Germany. It has been a part of the Eurosystem since 1999, sharing responsibility with the other national central banks and the European Central Bank (ECB) for the single currency, and thus has no scope to manipulate the bloc’s exchange rate. Germany’s persistently high current account surplus – the world’s second largest in 2020 at USD 261 billion (6.9 percent of GDP) – has shrunk for the fifth year in a row. Despite the decrease, the persistence of Germany’s surplus remains a matter of international controversy. German policymakers view the large surplus as the result of market forces rather than active government policies, while the European Commission (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) – located at the General Customs Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Finance – 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. On January 1, 2020, legislation to implement the 5th 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. On March 9, 2021 the Bundestag passed an anti-money laundering law seeking to improve Germany’s criminal legal framework for combating money laundering while simultaneously implementing the EU’s 6th Money Laundering Directive (EU 2018/1673 – hereafter “the Directive”). The Directive lays down minimum rules on the definition of criminal offenses and sanctions to combat money laundering. The law goes beyond the minimum standard set out in the Directive by broadening the definition of activities that could be prosecuted as money laundering offenses. Previously, the money laundering section in the German Criminal Code was designed to criminalize acts in connection with a list of serious “predicate offenses,” the underlying crime generating illicit funds, e.g., drug trafficking. The new law dispenses with the previously defined list, allowing any crime to be considered as a “predicate offense” to money laundering (the “All- Crimes Approach”). This is a paradigm shift in German criminal law, and implements an additional priority laid out in Germany’s “Strategy to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing” adopted in 2019.
The number of suspected money laundering and terrorist financing cases rose sharply in 2019 from 77.000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) to 114.914 according to the 2019 annual report of FIU (a new record and 12-fold that of 2009). The vast majority (98 percent) of suspicious transaction reports were filed by German banks and other financial institutions in order to avoid legal risks after a court ruling that held anti-money laundering (AML) officers personally liable, thus including many “false positives”. At the same time, the activities resulted in just 156 criminal charges, 133 indictments and only 54 verdicts.
In its annual report 2018, the FIU noted an “extreme vulnerability” in Germany’s real estate market to money laundering activities. Transparency International found that about €30 billion in illicit funds were funneled into German real estate in 2017. The results of the first concerted action by supervisory authorities of the German federal states in the automotive industry in 2019, for example, were sobering: only 15 percent of car dealers had implemented AML provisions, the rest had deficiencies, showing the “need for further sensitization.” The report also noted a slight upward trend in the number of SARs related to crypto assets. Around 760 SARs cited “anomalies in connection with cryptocurrencies”, as reporting noted, especially the forwarding of funds to trading platforms abroad for the exchange of funds into cryptocurrencies. However, the FIU itself has come under criticism. Financial institutions deplore the quality of its staff and the effectiveness of its work. The Institute of Public Auditors in Germany (IDW) criticizes that the precautions taken to prevent money laundering in high-risk industries outside the financial sector are monitored much less intensively. A review of the FIU scheduled for 2020 has been postponed due to the pandemic.
There is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange.
There are no restrictions or delays on investment remittances or the inflow or outflow of profits.
Germany is the largest remittance-sending country in the EU, making up almost 18% of all outbound personal remittances of the EU-27 (Eurostat). Migrants in Germany posted USD 25.1 billion (0.6 percent of GDP) abroad in 2019 (World Bank). Remittance flows into Germany amounted to around USD 16.5 billion in 2019, approximately 0.4 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). KfW’s mandate is to promote global development. 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 18,566 entities for 2018, or 0.5 percent of the total 3.5 million companies in Germany. SOEs in 2018 had €609 billion in revenue and €583 billion in expenditures. 41 percent of SOEs’ revenue was generated by water and energy suppliers, 12 percent by health and social services, and 11 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 104 companies and an indirect participation in 433 companies at the end of 2018, 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 infrastructure, economic development, 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. In 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the German government acquired shares of several large German companies, including CureVac, TUI and Lufthansa, in an attempt to prevent companies from filing for insolvency or, in the case of CureVac, support vaccine research in Germany.
The 2019 annual report (with 2018 data) can be found here: https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Content/DE/Downloads/Broschueren_Bestellservice/2020-05-14-beteiligungsbericht-des-bundes-2019.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=28
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 took 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 of around 12 percent 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.
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 to 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) stated its commitment to the action plan, including the principles on public procurement. It further stated that, if the NAP 2020’s effective and comprehensive review came to the conclusion that the voluntary due diligence approach of enterprises was insufficient, the government would initiate legislation for an EU-wide regulation. With results of the review showing a majority of companies do not sufficiently fulfill due diligence requirements, the government has since sought to pass a national supply chain law to ensure businesses take responsibility for their supply chains and their operations do not impinge upon human rights. Draft legislation passed by the government in March 2021 is currently in the parliamentary process.
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.
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 Amnesty International Germany, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e. V. (BUND), CorA Corporate Accountability – Netzwerk Unternehmensverantwortung, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Germanwatch, Greenpeace Germany, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Sneep (Studentisches Netzwerk zu Wirtschafts- und Unternehmensethik), Stiftung Warentest, Südwind – Institut für Ökonomie und Ökumene, TransFair – Verein zur Förderung des Fairen Handels mit der „Dritten Welt“ e. V., Transparency International, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V., Bundesverband Die Verbraucher Initiative e.V., and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, known as the „World Wildlife Fund“ in the United States).
Among industrialized countries, Germany ranks 9th out of 180, according to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. Some sectors including the automotive industry, construction sector, and public contracting, exert political influence and political 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 2019, 50 percent of all corruption cases were directed towards the public administration (down from 73 percent in 2018), 39 percent towards the business sector (up from 18 percent in 2018), 9 percent towards law enforcement and judicial authorities (up from 7 percent in 2018), and 2 percent to political officials (unchanged compared to 2018).
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. In early 2021, several parliamentarians stepped down due to inappropriate financial gains made through personal relationships to businesses involved in the procurement of face masks during the initial stages of the pandemic.
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 past 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.
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. Responsibilities in fighting corruption lies with the federal states.
The Federal Criminal Office publishes an annual report on corruption: “Bundeslagebild Korruption” – the latest one covers 2019. https://www.bka.de/DE/AktuelleInformationen/StatistikenLagebilder/Lagebilder/Korruption/korruption_node.html;jsessionid=95B370E07C3C5702B4A4AAEE8EAC8B3F.live0601
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. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, employment fell to 44.8 million in 2020.
Simultaneously, unemployment had fallen by more than half since 2005, and, in 2019, reached 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 Germany Federal Employment Agency calculations. 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. For the pandemic year 2020, the Federal Employment Agency reports an average unemployment rate of 5.9% with an average 2.7 million unemployed in 2020. This is an increase of 429,000 over 2019. However, long-term effects on the labor market, and the economy as a whole, due to COVID-19 are not yet fully observable. All employees are by law covered by the federal unemployment insurance that compensates for the lack of income for up to 24 months. A government-funded temporary furlough program allows companies to decrease their workforce and labor costs with layoffs and has helped mitigate a negative labor market impact in the short term. The government made intense use of this program, which enrolled at peak times in 2020 more than six million employees. The government, through the national employment agency, has spent more than 22 billion euros on this program, which it considers the main tool to keep unemployment low during the COVID-19 economic crisis. The government extended the program for all companies already meeting its conditions by the end of 2020 to December 31, 2021.
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. The government has begun to enhance its efforts to ensure an adequate labor supply by improving programs to integrate women, elderly, young people, and foreign nationals into the labor market. The government has also facilitated the immigration of qualified workers.
Germans consider the cooperation between labor unions and employer associations to be a fundamental principle of their social market economy and believe this has contributed to the country’s resilience during the economic and financial crisis. Insofar as job security for members is a core objective for German labor unions, unions often show restraint in collective bargaining in weak economic times and often can negotiate higher wages in strong economic conditions. 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 2020, total DGB union membership amounted to less than 6 million. IG Metall is the largest German labor union with 2.2 million members, followed by the influential service sector union Ver.di (1.9 million members).
The constitution and enabling legislation protect the right to collective bargaining, and agreements are legally binding to the parties. In 2019, 52 percent of non-self-employed workers were covered by a collective wage agreement.
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. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, real wages fell in 2020 by 1% over the previous year (preliminary figures).
Labor costs increased by 3.4 percent in 2019. With an average labor cost of €35 (USD 41.20) per hour, Germany ranked seventh among the 27 EU-members states (EU average: €27.40/USD 32.26) in 2019.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance 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. There is no DFC activity in Germany.
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
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)