Germany's ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder will mediate in a dispute between two leading retailers over the takeover of loss-making supermarket chain Kaiser's Tengelmann, the government said Monday, boosting hopes a deal can be struck to save thousands of jobs.
"Edeka, Tengelmann and Rewe today agreed to a mediation procedure led by former chancellor Gerhard Schröder," the economy ministry said in a statement.
The move is the latest and most drastic step yet towards resolving a long-running saga that began some two years ago when Germany's biggest supermarket group Edeka announced plans to take over the more than 400 stores owned by struggling Kaiser's Tengelmann.
But the deal ran into opposition from antitrust authorities, who said it would concentrate too much power in Edeka's hands.
Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel then stepped in and approved the takeover by special ministerial decree provided none of Kaiser's 16,000 employees would lose their jobs, which prompted supermarket rivals including Rewe to file a legal challenge.
The deal has been on hold since then and crisis talks between all sides have led nowhere, leaving Kaiser's Tengelmann to moot the prospect of breaking up the chain, which would lead to mass lay-offs.
Germany's giant services sector union Verdi welcomed Schröder's involvement in the talks, with chief Frank Bsirske saying it "opened up a real opportunity for a resolution".
Gabriel, who is also Germany's vice-chancellor, wrote on Twitter that the mediation effort "gives hope for the employees" of Kaiser's Tengelmann.