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TECHNOLOGY

Germany aims to protect tech firms from foreign takeovers

Germany's economy ministry on Thursday said it planned to tighten rules on non-EU takeovers of hi-tech firms, against a backdrop of growing alarm about Chinese firms buying up German know-how.

Germany aims to protect tech firms from foreign takeovers
Kuka robots on display at the Hannover Messe, an international technology fair, in April. Photo: DPA

The ministry said it had drafted an amendment to the Foreign Trade Regulation that would allow the government to review or block foreign purchases of stakes as low as 10 percent in “critical technology” companies.

It would affect firms working in the areas of robotics, artificial intelligence, semi-conductors, biotechnology and quantum technology.

“It's not about banning acquisitions, but about being able to look at them more closely in cases where it concerns critical technologies,” the ministry said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Germany to tighten rules on foreign takeovers: report

The move goes further than previous efforts by Berlin to protect strategic firms from foreign acquisitions.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier will unveil the proposal at a Berlin press conference on Friday.

Concern has mounted in recent years as Chinese companies have bought up or
purchased controlling stakes in high-tech firms, airports and harbours in countries across the European Union.

In Germany, the 2016 takeover of industrial robotics Kuka by Chinese household goods maker Midea sparked an outcry with critics saying vital technologies were being sold off to Beijing.

The German government responded in 2017 by announcing closer scrutiny of acquisitions by non-EU firms, doubling to four months the time for reviews, and strengthening its veto powers.

Berlin toughened its stance again last December with stricter rules to shield “critical infrastructure” sectors like energy, defence and telecoms from such takeovers.

Those regulations made it possible for the government to review purchases of stakes as low as 10 percent in such companies, down from 25 percent previously.

But it still did not cover companies like Kuka — something Altmaier's latest proposal seeks to address.

During a visit to Berlin in July 2018, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang sought to reassure anxious Germans.

Investments from China “do not threaten your national security”, he said, stressing that Chinese firms wanted to learn from German “experiences and technologies”.

That same month, the German government took a minority stake in electricity
transmission firm 50Hertz, thwarting Chinese investors from buying into the
company.

READ ALSO: How Germany plans to zoom out of the digital slow lane (and why it could struggle)

A Kuka device is sold at a “Reused Goods Fair” in Karlsruhe. Photo: DPA

'Unequal fight'

In another case last year, Berlin came close to using its veto right for the first time to halt the sale of machine tool manufacturer Leifeld Metal Spinning to China's Yantai Taihai Corporation.

Yantai preemptively abandoned its bid, avoiding the need for a veto.

Germany is far from alone in trying to curb Chinese appetite for European firms.

Sweden's Volvo Cars, Italian tyre-maker Pirelli and the French holiday group Club Med have all passed into Chinese hands this decade.

From just €2.1 billion in 2010, Chinese direct investment into the European Union hit a peak of €37.2 billion in 2016, according to a study by the Rhodium research group.

The volume of Chinese investments has dropped since, as Beijing clamped down on overindebted firms and European governments scrambled to tighten regulations.

Much of the Chinese investment has come from state-controlled groups, the study found.

Economy Minister Altmaier said German companies were increasingly competing
against rivals who benefitted from state intervention and protectionist policies.

“This is an unequal fight that our firms are losing more and more,” he told DPA news agency.

Altmaier's latest push to curb China's buying spree comes as the German government faces pressure to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing the country's next-generation 5G mobile network.

READ ALSO: Auction for superfast 5G launches in Germany

Critics, led by Washington, say Huawei has close ties to the Chinese government and its equipment could be used to spy for Beijing.

Huawei has strongly denied the allegations.

Merkel has so far resisted the calls to ban Huawei from the bidding process, saying those involved in the 5G rollout would have to comply with stringent security standards.

But opponents accuse her government of bowing to the economic might of China, Germany's largest trading partner.

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WORKING IN GERMANY

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Lots of foreigners in Germany hope to get a job or climb the career ladder. But are there still opportunities for English speakers who don't have fluent German? We spoke to a careers expert to find out.

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The pandemic turned our lives upside down. As well as having to isolate and be apart from family members, many people found themselves in need of a new job or decided they want a change in career. 

If you’re in Germany or thinking of moving here, job searching is of course easier with German language skills. But many people haven’t had the chance to learn German – or their German isn’t fluent enough to work in a German-only environment.

So how easy is it to find a job in Germany as an English speaker?

We asked Düsseldorf-based career coach Chris Pyak, managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH, who said he’s seen an increase in job offers. 

“The surprising thing about this pandemic is that demand for skilled labour actually got even stronger,” Pyak told The Local.

“Instead of companies being careful, they’ve hired even more than they did before. And the one thing that happened during the pandemic that didn’t happen in the last 10 years I’ve observed the job market was that the number of English offers quadrupled.”

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Pyak said usually about one percent of German companies hire new starts in English. “Now it’s about four percent,” said Pyak. 

“This happened in the second half of 2021. This is a really positive development that companies are more willing than they used to be. That said it’s still only four percent.”

Pyak said he’s seen a spike in demand for data scientists and analysts as well as project managers. 

So there are some jobs available, but can foreigners do anything else?

Pyak advises non-Germans to sell themselves in a different way than they may be used to. 

A woman works on her CV in Germany.

A woman works on her CV in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“In your home country you have a network, you have a company you used to work for that people know,” said Pyak. “This might be partly the case in Germany if you worked for an international company. But for most employers you are a blank sheet of paper, they know nothing about you. So unfortunately if they don’t know you or your country, they will assume you are worse (at the job) than Germans. It’s completely unjustified but it’s just how people are. 

“Get the employer to see you as the individual person you are, the professional you are. This requires that you have a conversation with somebody inside the company, ideally the decision maker, meaning the hiring manager or someone in this team.”

Pyak said it’s important to go into details. 

“Don’t think of me as a foreigner, think of me as ‘Mark who has been working in IT for 15 years’,” said Pyak. “Don’t read the job advert (to the manager), ask them what his or her biggest worry is and why is that important? And then dig deeper and offer solutions based on your work experience. Share actual examples where you proved that you can solve this problem.”

READ ALSO: 7 factors that can affect how much you’re getting paid

Pyak says foreigners in Germany can convince managers that they are right for the job – even if their German isn’t great. 

“What I advise clients at the beginning of the interview is to ask very politely if you can ask them (managers) a question. And this question should be: how will you know that I’m successful in this job, what is the most important problem I need to solve for you in order to make myself valuable? And then ask why this problem is so important. And the answer to that achieves a million things for you – first of all you’ve established a measurement by which you should be measured. 

“Then when you get into detailed discussion you can always tie your answer back to the question you can solve, which usually makes up 70 or 80 percent of the job. If you can solve this problem then what does it matter if you do the job in German or English?”

So in answer to our original question – it seems that getting an English-speaking job in Germany can’t be described as easy but it is very possible especially if you have the skills in your chosen field. Plus there are ways to increase your chances. Good luck! 

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