BY James Williams
Due to concerns over “politically-motivated” takeovers, the European Union (EU) has proposed a range of measures that it says will require foreign investors to rethink their investments in Europe.
The EU action is designed to address takeovers in sectors that three countries – Germany, France and Italy – have said could harm Europe's strategic interests, with concerns arising that technological proficiency is ‘leaking abroad’.
The proposals by the EU, which already has the power to block takeovers on antitrust grounds, would give the EU further powers to scrutinise investments in the US if they are deemed to be of strategic importance, from both an economic and a security perspective.
According to the European Commission's (EC) industry department, investments in sectors such as defence and transport infrastructure, as well as sectors which utilise critical and cutting-edge technologies, will be under the microscope. The EC department has also said that deals which it feels could conceivably risk “economic prosperity” will also be closely scrutinised.
Furthermore, the proposals would give the EU the power to block takeovers by any company whose motivation is considered to be "just for the purpose of disposing its overcapacity" – a determination which could well apply to sectors such as steel production which, for a number of years, has seen Europe accuse China, for example, of dumping under-priced goods.
Such a blocking mechanism may also apply to takeovers of EU companies by an EU-based subsidiary of a foreign firm, says the EU, or even in cases of "infiltration of the management with individuals from non-EU countries" who have the means to access data and technology.
Among the recent deals which have raised concerns and prompted the EU’s intervention is the $5bn acquisition of the German robotics maker Kuka by China’s Midea. Other German companies, such as Kion, Putzmeister and KraussMaffei , have also come under Chinese ownership in recent years.
“A growing number of non-EU investors were buying up European technologies for the strategic objectives of their home country”, said the economy ministers of France and Germany and Italy's industry minister this week. This is despite the barriers investors face when trying to lay their hands on assets in other countries.
For the proposals to get the go-ahead, all departments within the EC would need to give their approval. However, at a time of relentless euroscepticism, the proposals suggest that the EU “would maintain the right to allow or deny a takeover even after EU vetting”.