France welcomes foreign investment and has a stable business climate that attracts investors from around the world. The French government devotes significant resources to attracting foreign investment through policy incentives, marketing, overseas trade promotion offices, and investor support mechanisms. France has an educated population, first-rate universities, and a talented workforce. It has a modern business culture, sophisticated financial markets, a strong intellectual property rights regime, and innovative business leaders. The country is known for its world-class infrastructure, including high-speed passenger rail, maritime ports, extensive roadway networks, public transportation, and efficient intermodal connections. High-speed (3G/4G) telephony is nearly ubiquitous.
In 2019, the United States was the leading foreign investor in France with a stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) totaling over $87 billion. More than 4,500 U.S. firms operate in France, supporting nearly 500,000 jobs. The United States exported $59.6 billion of goods and services to France in 2019.
Following the election of French President Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, the French government implemented significant labor market and tax reforms. By relaxing the rules on companies to hire and fire employees and by offering investment incentives, Macron has buoyed ease of doing business in France. However, Macron will likely delay or abandon the second phase of his envisioned reforms for unemployment benefits and pensions due to more pressing concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Recent reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. France implemented the European Competition Network or ECN Directive on April 11, 2019, allowing the French Competition Authority to impose heftier fines (above €3 million / $3.3 million) and temporary measures to prevent an infringement that may cause harm.
On December 31, 2019 the government issued a national security decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.
Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includesloweringfrom 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.
In 2019 France passed a digital services tax. The 2019 tax law reduces corporate tax on profits over €500,000 ($550,000) to 31 percent for 2019, 28 percent in 2020, 26.5 percent in 2021 and 25 percent in 2022.
In 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on France’s macroeconomic outlook will be severe. GDP shrank 5.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter, the sharpest economic contraction since 1949. France’s official statistical agency INSEE attributed this fall to the government’s restrictions on economic activity due to the pandemic. However, the GDP figure incorporates only two weeks of France’s confinement, which began March 17, leading economists to predict that second quarter figures will be significantly worse. The Q1 figure marks the second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, after shrinking 0.1 percent in Q4 of 2019, meaning France has officially fallen into a technical recession. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced in April 2020 that he expects economic activity to decline by 8 percent in 2020, the public deficit to increase to 9 percent of GDP, and debt to rise to 115 percent of GDP.
In response to the economic impact of the pandemic, the government launched a €410 billion ($447 billion) emergency fiscal package in March 2020. The bulk of the package aims to support businesses through loan guarantees and deferrals on tax and social security payments. The remainder is allocated to stabilizing households and demand, largely through its €24 billion ($26 billion) temporary unemployment scheme that allows workers to stay home while continuing to collect a portion of their wages.
Although France’s emergency fund is sizeable at 16 percent of GDP, it is not sufficient to fully absorb the economic impact of the pandemic. Key issues to watch in 2020 include: 1) the degree to which COVID-19 continues to agitate the macroeconomic environment; and 2) the size and scope of recovery measures, including additional fiscal support from the government of France, a broader EU rescue package, and the monetary response from the European Central Bank.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
France welcomes foreign investment. In the current economic climate, the French government sees foreign investment as a means to create additional jobs and stimulate growth. Investment regulations are simple, and a range of financial incentives are available to foreign investors, who report they find France’s skilled and productive labor force, good infrastructure, technology, and central location in Europe attractive. France’s membership in the European Union (EU) and the Eurozone facilitates the efficient movement of people, services, capital, and goods. However, notwithstanding French efforts at economic and tax reform, market liberalization, and attracting foreign investment, perceived disincentives to investing in France include the relatively high tax environment. Labor market fluidity is improving due to labor market reforms but is still rigid compared to some OECD economies.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
France is among the least restrictive countries for foreign investment. With a few exceptions in certain specified sectors, there are no statutory limits on foreign ownership of companies. Foreign entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.
France maintains a national security review mechanism to screen high-risk investments. French law stipulates that control by acquisition of a domiciled company or subsidiary operating in certain sectors deemed crucial to France’s national interests relating to public order, public security and national defense are subject to prior notification, review, and approval by the Economy and Finance Minister. Other sectors requiring approval include energy infrastructure; transportation networks; public water supplies; electronic communication networks; public health protection; and installations vital to national security. In 2018, four additional categories – semiconductors, data storage, artificial intelligence and robotics – were added to the list requiring a national security review. For all listed sectors, France can block foreign takeovers of French companies according to the provisions of the Montebourg Decree.
On December 31, 2019 the government issued a decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.
Procedurally, the Minister of Economy and Finance has 30 business days following the receipt of a request for authorization to either: 1) declare that the investor is not required to obtain such authorization; 2) grant its authorization without conditions; or 3) declare that an additional review is required to determine whether a conditional authorization is sufficient to protect national interests. If an additional review is required, the Minister has an additional 45 business days to either clear the transaction (possibly subject to conditions) or prohibit it. The Minister is further allowed to deny clearance based on the investor’s ties with a foreign government or public authority. The absence of a decision within the applicable timeframe is a de facto rejection of the authorization.
The government has also expanded the breadth of information required in the approval request. For example, a foreign investor must now disclose any financial relationship with or significant financial support from a State or public entity; a list of French and foreign competitors of the investor and of the target; or a signed statement that the investor has not, over the past five years, been subject to any sanctions for non-compliance with French FDI regulations.
Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includes lowering from 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.
Business France is a government agency established with the purpose of promoting new foreign investment, expansion, technology partnerships, and financial investment. Business France provides services to help investors understand regulatory, tax, and employment policies as well as state and local investment incentives and government support programs. Business France also helps companies find project financing and equity capital. Business France recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses that are considering investments in the French market (https://www.businessfrance.fr/en/invest-in-France).
In addition, France’s public investment bank, Bpifrance, assists foreign businesses to find local investors when setting up a subsidiary in France. It also supports foreign startups in France through the government’s French Tech Ticket program, which provides them with funding, a resident’s permit, and incubation facilities. Both business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and minorities.
President Macron has made innovation one of his priorities with a €10 billion ($11 billion) fund that is being financed through privatizations of State-owned enterprises. France’s priority sectors for investment include: aeronautics, agro-foods, digital, nuclear, rail, auto, chemicals and materials, forestry, eco-industries, shipbuilding, health, luxury, and extractive industries. In the near-term, the French government intends to focus on driverless vehicles, batteries, the high-speed train of the future, nano-electronics, renewable energy, and health industries.
Business France and Bpifrance are particularly interested in attracting foreign investment in the tech sector. The French government has developed the “French Tech” initiative to promote France as a location for start-ups and high-growth digital companies. In addition to 17 French cities, French Tech offices have been established in 100 cities around the world, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Moscow, and Berlin. French Tech has special programs to provide support to startups at various stages of their development. The latest effort has been the creation of the French Tech 120 Program, which provides financial and administrative support to some 123 most promising tech companies. In 2019, €5 billion ($5.5 billion) in venture funding was raised by French startups, an increase of nearly threefold since 2015. In September 2019, President Emmanuel Macron convinced major asset managers such as AXA and Natixis to invest €5 billion ($5.5 billion) into French tech companies over the next three years. He also announced the creation of a listing of France’s top 40 startups “Next 40” with the highest potential to grow into unicorns.
The website Guichet Enterprises (https://www.guichet-entreprises.fr/fr/) is designed to be a one-stop website for registering a business. The site is available in both French and English although some fact sheets on regulated industries are only available in French on the website.
French firms invest more in the United States than in any other country and support approximately 728,500 American jobs. Total French investment in the United States reached $326.4 billion in 2018. France was our ninth largest trading partner with approximately $136 billion in bilateral trade in 2019. The business promotion agency Business France also assists French firms with outward investment, which it does not restrict.
In line with President Macron’s campaign promise to clean up French politics, the French parliament adopted in September 2017 the law on “Restoring Confidence in Public Life.” The new law bans elected officials from employing family members, or working as a lobbyist or consultant while in office. It also bans lobbyists from paying parliamentary, ministerial, or presidential staff and requires parliamentarians to submit receipts for expenses.
France’s “Transparency, Anti-corruption, and Economic Modernization Law,” also known as the “Loi Sapin II,” came into effect on June 1, 2017. It brought France’s legislation in line with European and international standards. Key aspects of the law include: creating a new anti-corruption agency; establishing “deferred prosecution” for defendants in corruption cases and prosecuting companies (French or foreign) suspected of bribing foreign public officials abroad; requiring lobbyists to register with national institutions; and expanding legal protections for whistleblowers. The Sapin II law also established a High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP). The HATVP promotes transparency in public life by publishing the declarations of assets and interests it is legally authorized to share publicly. After review, declarations of assets and statements of interests of members of the government are published on the High Authority’s website under open license. The declarations of interests of members of Parliament and mayors of big cities and towns, but also of regions are also available on the website. In addition, the declarations of assets of parliamentarians can be accessed in certain governmental buildings, though not published on the internet.
France is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. The U.S. embassy in Paris has received no specific complaints from U.S. firms of unfair competition in France in recent years. France ranked 23rd of 180 on Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 corruption perceptions index. See https://www.transparency.org/country/FRA.
Resources to Report Corruption
The Central Office for the Prevention of Corruption (Service Central de Prevention de la Corruption or SCPC) was replaced in 2017 by the new national anti-corruption agency – the Agence Francaise Anticorruption (AFA). The AFA is charged with preventing corruption by establishing anti-corruption programs, making recommendations, and centralizing and disseminating information to prevent and detect corrupt officials and company executives. The AFA will also administrative authority to review the anticorruption compliance mechanisms in the private sector, in local authorities and in other government agencies.
Contact information for Agence Française Anti-corruption (AFA):
France’s private sector labor force is a major asset in attracting foreign investment. With a return to growth (1.7 percent in 2018 and 1.2 percent in 2019) and a drop in unemployment to 8.1 percent in 2019 from 8.8 percent in 2018, President Macron launched a labor market reform to reduce regulations and spur new hiring. Five ordinances (executive orders), which came into effect on January 1, 2018, introduced measures easing companies’ ability to fire workers including by capping potential damage claims in cases of wrongful dismissal, and a one-year time limit for making claims, which business organizations have requested for several decades. In order to make these proposals acceptable to labor unions, Labor Minister Penicaud increased regular required severance pay by 25 percent. For example, an employee paid a monthly €2,000 ($2,160) and fired after 10 years will be entitled to a severance pay of €5,000 ($5,400), instead of the previous €4,000 ($4,320).
Mandatory company employee councils for consultations on economic, social and public safety issues have been reduced from three to one participant. Companies of all sizes are now able to initiate wide-scale voluntary layoffs with severance provisions for employees for any reason without fear of lawsuit, but with the agreement of labor unions representing a majority of employees. Finally, foreign-owned companies no longer have to justify job cuts in France on the basis of their global turnover, but can base them on poor performance in the French market alone. These measures have been welcomed by the business community.
France’s has one of the lowest unionized work forces in the developed world (between 8-11 percent of the total work force). However, unions have strong statutory protections under French law that give them the power to engage in sector- and industry-wide negotiations on behalf of all workers. As a result, an estimated 98 percent of French workers are covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements. Any organizational change in the workplace must usually be presented to the unions for a formal consultation as part of the collective bargaining process.
The number of apprenticeships in France has increased by 16 percent in 2019 and now totals 491,000 in both the public and private sectors, according to Labor Ministry figures. Apprenticeships, like vocational training, have been placed under the direct management of the government via a newly created agency called France Compétences. Growth of apprenticeship and reform of vocational training help to explain the recent drop in the unemployment rate.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 from 8.8 percent in the previous quarter. This was France’s lowest unemployment rate since the 2008 financial crisis. However, youth unemployment remained high at 20 percent, from 20.8 percent in 2018 and 22.3 percent in 2017. France’s partial unemployment scheme, which allows firms to retain their employees while the government continues to pay a portion of their wages, has expanded dramatically in scope and size during the Coronavirus epidemic. Over half of France’s entire workforce was enrolled in the scheme at the end of April 2020. The number of job seekers is likely to increase sharply if the government follows through with its plan to gradually taper off the scheme beginning in June 2020.
The COVID-19 crisis may cause the Macron Administration to delay or abandon two planned labor reforms on unemployment benefits and pensions. Labor unions have asked the government to repeal its July 26, 2019 decrees gradually introducing tighter rules for unemployment benefit claims designed to encourage people to go back to work and save €3.4 billion ($3.75 billion) over three years. The new rules reduce benefits for all unemployed people, especially the highest earners (above €4,500 / $4,950 a month). Pension reform, approved by the government on January 24, 2020, and opposed by all labor unions in its current form, is also unlikely to resurface in parliament as the government focuses on economic recovery.
As Europe’s largest economy, Germany is a major destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and has accumulated a vast stock of FDI over time. Germany is consistently ranked as one of the most attractive investment destinations based on its reliable infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, positive social climate, stable legal environment, and world-class research and development.
The United States is the leading source of non-European foreign investment in Germany. Foreign investment in Germany mainly originates from other European countries, the United States, and Japan. FDI from emerging economies (and China) has grown slowly over 2015-2018, albeit from low levels.
The German government continues to strengthen provisions for national security screening inward investment in reaction to an increasing number of high-risk acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors in recent years, particularly from China. German authorities strongly support the European Union framework to coordinate Member State screening of foreign investments, which entered into force in April 2019, and are currently enacting implementing legislation.
In 2018, the government lowered the threshold for the screening of investments, allowing authorities to screen acquisitions by foreign entities of at least 10 percent of voting rights of German companies that operate or provide services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses.
Further amendments, still in draft as of May 2020, will
a) introduce a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat,
b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and
c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.
Furthermore, acquisitions by foreign government-owned or funded entities will now trigger a review, and the healthcare industry will be considered a sensitive sector to which the stricter 10% threshold applies. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy said it would draft a further amendment later in 2020 which would include a list of sensitive technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructure) to include artificial intelligence, robotics, semiconductors, biotechnology, and quantum technology. Foreign investors who seek to acquire at least 10% of ownership rights of a German company in one those fields would be required to notify the government and potentially become subject to an investment review. With these draft and planned amendments, Germany is implementing the 2019 EU Screening Regulation.
German legal, regulatory, and accounting systems can be complex and burdensome but are generally transparent and consistent with developed-market norms. Businesses operate within a well regulated, albeit high cost, environment. Foreign and domestic investors are treated equally when it comes to investment incentives or the establishment and protection of real and intellectual property. Foreign investors can rely on the German legal system to enforce laws and contracts; at the same time, this system requires investors to closely track their legal obligations. New investors should ensure they have the necessary legal expertise, either in-house or outside counsel, to meet all national and EU regulations.
German authorities are committed to fighting money laundering and corruption. The government promotes responsible business conduct and German SMEs are aware of the need for due diligence.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The German government and industry actively encourage foreign investment. U.S. investment continues to account for a significant share of Germany’s FDI. The 1956 U.S.-Federal Republic of Germany Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation affords U.S. investors national treatment and provides for the free movement of capital between the United States and Germany. As an OECD member, Germany adheres to the OECD National Treatment Instrument and the OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and of Invisible Operations. The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers, to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security (for example, when the investment pertains to critical infrastructure). For many decades, Germany has experienced significant inbound investment, which is widely recognized as a considerable contributor to Germany’s growth and prosperity. The investment-related challenges facing foreign companies are broadly the same as face domestic firms, e.g high tax rates and labor laws that complicate hiring and dismissals. Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, provides extensive information for investors: https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Under German law, a foreign-owned company registered in the Federal Republic of Germany as a GmbH (limited liability company) or an AG (joint stock company) is treated the same as a German-owned company. There are no special nationality requirements for directors or shareholders.
The provision of employee placement services, such as providing temporary office support, domestic help, or executive search services, requires registration of a business in Germany.
Germany maintains an elaborate mechanism to screen foreign investments based on national security grounds. The legislative basis for the mechanism (the Foreign Trade and Payments Act and Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance) has been amended several times in recent years in an effort to tighten parameters of the screening as technological threats evolve, particularly to address growing investment interest by malevolent actors in both Mittelstand (mid-sized) and blue chip German companies. Amendments to implement the 2019 EU Screening Regulation are in draft or have been announced as of May 2020. In addition, authorities will make “prospective impairment” of public order and security the new trigger for an investment review, in place of the current standard (which requires a de facto threat).
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2020” and Economist Intelligence Unit both provide additional information on Germany’s investment climate. The American Chamber of Commerce in Germany also publishes results of an annual survey of U.S. investors in Germany (“AmCham Germany Transatlantic Business Barometer”, https://www.amcham.de/publications).
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.
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.
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.
Among industrialized countries, Germany ranks 9th out of 180, according to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. Some sectors including the automotive industry, construction sector, and public contracting, exhibit political influence and party finance remains only partially transparent. Nevertheless, U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an impediment to investment in Germany. Germany is a signatory of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.
Over the last two decades, Germany has increased penalties for the bribery of German officials, corrupt practices between companies, and price-fixing by companies competing for public contracts. It has also strengthened anti-corruption provisions on financial support extended by the official export credit agency and has tightened the rules for public tenders. Government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts linked to their jobs. Most state governments and local authorities have contact points for whistle-blowing and provisions for rotating personnel in areas prone to corruption. There are serious penalties for bribing officials and price fixing by companies competing for public contracts.
According to the Federal Criminal Office, in 2018, 73 percent of all corruption cases were directed towards the public administration (up from 63 percent in 2017), 18 percent towards the business sector (down from 22 percent in 2017), 7 percent towards law enforcement and judicial authorities (down from 12 percent in 2017), and 2 percent to political officials (down from 3 percent in 2017).
Parliamentarians are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish earnings from outside employment. Disclosures are available to the public via the Bundestag website (next to the parliamentarians’ biographies) and in the Official Handbook of the Bundestag. Penalties for noncompliance can range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary.
Donations by private persons or entities to political parties are legally permitted. However, if they exceed €50,000, they must be reported to the President of the Bundestag, who is required to immediately publish the name of the party, the amount of the donation, the name of the donor, the date of the donation, and the date the recipient reported the donation. Donations of €10,000 or more must be included in the party’s annual accountability report to the President of the Bundestag.
State prosecutors are generally responsible for investigating corruption cases, but not all state governments have prosecutors specializing in corruption. Germany has successfully prosecuted hundreds of domestic corruption cases over the years, including large scale cases against major companies.
Media reports in recent years about bribery investigations against Siemens, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Bank, and Ferrostaal have increased awareness of the problem of corruption. As a result, listed companies and multinationals have expanded compliance departments, tightened internal codes of conduct, and offered more training to employees.
The Federation of Germany Industries (BDI), the Association of German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) provide guidelines in paper and electronic format on how to prevent corruption in an effort to convince all including small- and medium- sized companies to catch up.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
Germany was a signatory to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention in 2003. The Bundestag ratified the Convention in November 2014.
Germany adheres to and actively enforces the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention which criminalizes bribery of foreign public officials by German citizens and firms. The necessary tax reform legislation ending the tax write-off for bribes in Germany and abroad became law in 1999.
Germany participates in the relevant EU anti-corruption measures and signed two EU conventions against corruption. However, while Germany ratified the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 2017, it has not yet ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption.
Resources to Report Corruption
There is no central government anti-corruption agency in Germany.
Contact at “watchdog” organization:
Hartmut Bäumer, Chair
Transparency International Germany
Alte Schönhauser Str. 44, 10119 Berlin
+49 30 549 898 0
The Federal Criminal Office publishes an annual report: “Bundeslagebild Korruption” – the latest one covers 2018.
The German labor force is generally highly skilled, well-educated, and productive. Before the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, employment in Germany had risen for the thirteenth consecutive year and reached an all-time high of 45.3 million in 2019, an increase of 402,000 (or 0.9 percent) from 2018—the highest level since German reunification in 1990.
Simultaneously, unemployment had fallen by more than half since 2005, and reached in 2019 the lowest average annual value since German reunification. In 2019, around 2.34 million people were registered as unemployed, corresponding to an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, according to the Germany Federal Employment Agency. Using internationally comparable data from the European Union’s statistical office Eurostat, Germany had an average annual unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in 2019, the second lowest rate in the European Union. All employees are by law covered by the federal unemployment insurance that compensates for the lack of income for up to 24 months. Long-term effects on the labor market, and the economy as a whole, due to COVID-19 are not yet fully conceivable. However, as of April 2020, the number of unemployed had increased to 2.64 million (a 5.8% unemployment rate). A government-funded temporary furlough program allows companies to decrease its workforce and labor costs with layoffs and has helped mitigate a negative labor market impact in the short term.
Germany’s national youth unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in 2019, the lowest in the EU. The German vocational training system has gained international interest as a key contributor to Germany’s highly skilled workforce and its sustainably low youth unemployment rate. Germany’s so-called “dual vocational training,” a combination of theoretical courses taught at schools and practical application in the workplace, teaches and develops many of the skills employers need. Each year, there are more than 500,000 apprenticeship positions available in more than 340 recognized training professions, in all sectors of the economy and public administration. Approximately 50 percent of students choose to start an apprenticeship. The government is promoting apprenticeship opportunities, in partnership with industry, through the “National Pact to Promote Training and Young Skilled Workers.”
An element of growing concern for German business is the aging and shrinking of the population, which (absent large-scale immigration) will likely result in labor shortages. Official forecasts at the behest of the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs predict that the current working age population will shrink by almost 3 million between 2010 and 2030, resulting in an overall shortage of workforce and skilled labor. Labor bottlenecks already constrain activity in many industries, occupations, and regions. According to the Federal Employment Agency, doctors; medical and geriatric nurses; mechanical, automotive, and electrical engineers; and IT professionals are in particular short supply. The government has begun to enhance its efforts to ensure an adequate labor supply by improving programs to integrate women, elderly, young people, and foreign nationals into the labor market. The government has also facilitated the immigration of qualified workers.
Germans consider the cooperation between labor unions and employer associations to be a fundamental principle of their social market economy and believe this has contributed to the country’s resilience during the economic and financial crisis. Insofar as job security for members is a core objective for German labor unions, unions often show restraint in collective bargaining in weak economic times and often can negotiate higher wages in strong economic conditions. According to the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), the number of workdays lost to labor actions increased significantly to 1 million in 2018, compared to 238,000 in 2017. WSI assesses this unusual increase was mostly due to the labor conflict in the machinery sector, which resulted in a large number of warning strikes at various companies and plants. However, in an international comparison, Germany is in the lower midrange with regards to strike numbers and intensity. All workers have the right to strike, except for civil servants (including teachers and police) and staff in sensitive or essential positions, such as members of the armed forces.
Germany’s constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations contain provisions designed to protect the right of employees to form and join independent unions of their choice. The overwhelming majority of unionized workers are members of one of the eight largest unions — largely grouped by industry or service sector — which are affiliates of the German Trade Union Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB). Several smaller unions exist outside the DGB. Overall trade union membership has, however, been in decline over the last several years. In 2016, about 18.5 percent of the workforce belonged to unions. Since peaking at around 12 million members shortly after German reunification, total DGB union membership has dropped to about 6 million, IG Metall being the largest German labor union with 2.27 million members, followed by the influential service sector union Ver.di (1.97 million members).
The constitution and enabling legislation protect the right to collective bargaining, and agreements are legally binding to the parties. In 2018, over three quarters (78 percent) of non-self-employed workers were directly or indirectly covered by a collective wage agreement, 59 percent of the labor force in the western part of the country and approximately 47 percent in the East. On average, collective bargaining agreements in Germany were valid for 25 months in 2017.
By law, workers can elect a works council in any private company employing at least five people. The rights of the works council include the right to be informed, to be consulted, and to participate in company decisions. Works councils often help labor and management to settle problems before they become disputes and disrupt work. In addition, “co-determination” laws give the workforce in medium-sized or large companies (corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships limited by shares, co-operatives, and mutual insurance companies) significant voting representation on the firms’ supervisory boards. This co-determination in the supervisory board extends to all company activities.
From 2010 to 2019, real wages grew by 1.2 percent on average. Generous collective bargaining wage increases in 2019 (+3.2 percent) and the increase of the federal Germany-wide statutory minimum wage to €9.35 (USD 10.15) on January 1, 2020, led to 2.6 percent nominal wage increase. Real wages grew by 1.2 percent in 2019.
Labor costs increased by 2.3 percent in 2018. With an average labor cost of €35 (USD 43) per hour, Germany ranked sixth among the 28 EU-members states (EU average: €26.80/USD 33.20) in 2018.
Until the outbreak of COVID-19, Poland’s economy had been experiencing a long period of uninterrupted economic expansion since 1992. During this time, Poland’s investment climate has continued to grow in attractiveness to foreign investors, including U.S. investors. Foreign capital has been drawn by strong economic fundamentals: Poland’s GDP growth reached 4.1 percent in 2019, driven by persistently strong domestic consumption and higher-than-expected investments. Household expenditures continued to grow, fueled by an expansion of the Family 500+ program, additional pension payments, and a strong labor market. Proposed economic legislation dampened optimism in some sectors (e.g., retail, media, energy, digital services, and beverages). Investors have also pointed to lower predictability and the outsized role of state-owned and state-controlled companies in the Polish economy as an impediment to long-term balanced growth. In 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Poland’s economy is likely to experience the first recession in 30 years, but it is likely to weather the crisis better than almost any other European Union (EU) member state. The contraction in the Polish economy will be the mildest in the EU, according to the European Commission (EC). Despite a polarized political environment following the conclusion of a series of national elections and a number of less business-friendly sector specific policies, the broad structures of the Polish economy are solid.
Prospects for future growth, driven by domestic demand and inflows of EU funds from the 2014-2020 and future financial frameworks, as well as COVID-19 related government aid programs, are likely to continue to attract investors seeking access to Poland’s market of over 38 million people, and to the broader EU market of over 500 million. As throughout the rest of the world, the COVID-19 epidemic will have significant macroeconomic effects in Poland, including a weakening of economic activity, deterioration of the labor market and public finances, and a change in economic behavior of households and enterprises. In May 2020, the Polish government passed a 1.5 percent tax on revenues from video-on-demand services as a part of its COVID-19 economic stimulus plan, dubbed the “Anti-Crisis Shield.” The tax revenue will go to the Polish Film Institute to help support the film industry which has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Poland’s well-diversified economy reduces its vulnerability to external shocks, although it depends heavily on the EU as an export market. Foreign investors also cite Poland’s well-educated work force as a major reason to invest, as well as its proximity to major markets such as Germany. U.S. firms represent one of the largest groups of foreign investors in Poland. The volume of U.S. investment in Poland is estimated at around USD 5 billion by the National Bank of Poland in 2018 and around USD 25 billion by the Warsaw-based American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham). With the inclusion of indirect investment flows through subsidiaries, it may reach as high as USD 62.7 billion, according to AmCham. Historically, foreign direct investment (FDI) was largest in the automotive and food processing industries, followed by machinery and other metal products and petrochemicals. “Shared office” services such as accounting, legal, and information technology services, including research and development (R&D), is Poland’s fastest-growing sector for foreign investment. The government seeks to promote domestic production and technology transfer opportunities in awarding defense-related tenders. There are also some investment and export opportunities in the energy sector—both immediate (natural gas), and longer term (nuclear, energy grid upgrades, photovoltaics, and offshore wind)—as Poland seeks to diversify its energy mix and reduce air pollution. Biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and health care industries might open wider to investments and exports as a result of the COVID-19 experience.
Defense is another promising sector for U.S. exports. The Polish government is actively modernizing its military inventory, presenting good opportunities for the U.S. defense industry. In 2018, Poland signed its largest-ever defense contract when committing to purchase the PATRIOT missile defense system, and in 2019 it signed a contract to buy the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). In February 2019, the Defense Ministry announced its updated technical modernization plan listing its top programmatic priorities, with defense modernization budgets forecasted to increase from approximately USD 3.3 billion in 2019 to approximately USD 7.75 billion in 2025. In January 2020, Poland signed a contract worth $4.6 billion under which the country will acquire 32 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets from the United States. Information technology and cybersecurity along with infrastructure also show promise, as Poland’s municipalities focus on smart city networks. A USD 10 billion central airport project may present opportunities for U.S. companies in project management, consulting, communications, and construction. The government seeks to expand the economy by supporting high-tech investments, increasing productivity and foreign trade, and supporting entrepreneurship, scientific research, and innovation through the use of domestic and EU funding.
In 2018, Poland saw significant increases in wholesale electricity prices due largely to an increase in the price of coal and EU emissions permits. An amendment to the act regulating energy prices, adopted in mid-2019, allowed for freezing electricity prices throughout 2019 for households, micro and small businesses, hospitals and public sector finance units including local government offices. For medium and large enterprises, the bill introduced the possibility of applying for partial compensation for electricity consumed, within the EU framework. A major EU project is to synchronize the Baltic States’ electricity grid with that of Poland and the wider European network by 2025.
A government strategy aims for a commercial fifth generation (5G) network to become operational by the end of 2020 in at least one city and in all cities by 2025, although planned spectrum auctions have been delayed.
Some organizations, notably private business associations and labor unions, have raised concerns that policy changes have been introduced quickly and without broad consultation, increasing uncertainty about the stability and predictability of Poland’s business environment. For example, the government announced a “sugar tax” on beverages with only a few months warning after firms had already prepared budgets for the coming year. Previous proposals to introduce legislation on media de-concentration raised concern among foreign investors in the sector; however, these proposals seem to be stalled for the time being.
The Polish tax system underwent many changes over the last four years with the aim of increasing budget revenues, including more effective tax auditing and collection. The November 2018 tax bill included a number of changes important for foreign investors, such as penalties for aggressive tax planning, changes to the withholding tax, incentives for R&D, and an exit tax on corporations and individuals. In 2019, a new mechanism for withholding tax (WHT) was introduced as well as individual tax account numbers.
As the largest recipient of EU funds (which contribute an estimated 1 percentage point to Poland’s GDP growth per year), any significant decrease in EU cohesion spending would have a large negative impact on Poland’s economy. Draft EU budgets foresee a considerable decrease in Poland’s cohesion funds in the next cycle, part of which could be attributed to Poland’s conflict with the European Union over reforms to the judiciary. The Polish government has supported taxing the income of Internet companies, proposed by the European Commission in 2018, and considers it a possible new source of financing for the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. Observers are closely watching the European Commission’s proceedings under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, initiated in December 2017, regarding rule of law and judicial reforms. These include the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the enacted Supreme Court Law, which could potentially affect economic interests, in that final judgments issued since 1997 can now be challenged and overturned in whole or in part, including some long-standing judgments on which economic actors have relied.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Poland welcomes foreign investment as a source of capital, growth, and jobs, and as a vehicle for technology transfer, research and development (R&D), and integration into global supply chains. The government’s Strategy for Responsible Development identifies key goals for attracting investment, including improving the investment climate, a stable macroeconomic and regulatory environment, and high-quality corporate governance, including in state-controlled companies. By the end of 2018, according to IMF and National Bank of Poland data, Poland attracted around USD 228.5 billion (cumulative) in foreign direct investment (FDI), principally from Western Europe and the United States. In 2018, reinvested profits again dominated the net inflow of FDI to Poland. The greatest reinvestment of profits occurred in services and manufacturing, reflecting the change of Poland’s economy to a more service-oriented and less capital-intensive structure.
Foreign companies generally enjoy unrestricted access to the Polish market. However, Polish law limits foreign ownership of companies in selected strategic sectors, and limits acquisition of real estate, especially agricultural and forest land. Additionally, the current government has expressed a desire to increase the percentage of domestic ownership in some industries such as banking and retail which have large holdings by foreign companies and has employed sectoral taxes and other measures to advance this aim. In March 2018, Sunday trading ban legislation went into effect, which is gradually phasing out Sunday retail commerce in Poland, especially for large retailers. In 2019, stores operated an average of one Sunday a month, and in 2020 a total ban will be in effect (with the exception of seven Sundays). In 2019, the government introduced a draft bill requiring producers and importers of sugary and sweetened beverages to pay a fee. Polish authorities have also publicly favored introducing a digital services tax. Because no draft has been released, the details of such a tax are unknown, but it would presumably affect mainly foreign digital companies.
There is a variety of agencies involved in investment promotion:
The Ministry of Development has two departments involved in investment promotion and facilitation: the Investment Development and the Trade and International Relations Departments. The Deputy Minister supervising the Investment Development Department was appointed in 2019 to be ombudsman for foreign investors. https://www.gov.pl/web/przedsiebiorczosc-technologia/
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) promotes Poland’s foreign relations including economic relations, and along with the Polish Chamber of Commerce (KIG), organizes missions of Polish firms abroad and hosts foreign trade missions to Poland. https://www.msz.gov.pl/; https://kig.pl/
The Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) is the main institution responsible for promotion and facilitation of foreign investment. The agency is responsible for promoting Polish exports, for inward foreign investment and for Polish investments abroad. The agency operates as part of the Polish Development Fund, which integrates government development agencies. PAIH coordinates all operational instruments, such as commercial diplomatic missions, commercial fairs and programs dedicated to specific markets and sectors. The Agency has opened offices abroad including in the United States (San Francisco and Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and New York). PAIH’s services are available to all investors. https://www.paih.gov.pl/en
The American Chamber of Commerce has established the American Investor Desk – an investor-dedicated know-how gateway providing comprehensive information on investing in Poland and investing in the USA https://amcham.pl/american-investor-desk
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Poland allows both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity per the Entrepreneurs’ Law which went into effect on April 30, 2018. Forms of business activity are described in the Commercial Companies Code. Poland does place limits on foreign ownership and foreign equity for a limited number of sectors. Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting, and airport and seaport operations sectors. Licenses and concessions for defense production and management of seaports are granted on the basis of national treatment for investors from OECD countries.
Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a television broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if the majority of the members of the management and supervisory boards are Polish citizens and hold permanent residence in Poland. In 2017, a team comprised of officials from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) and the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) was created in order to review and tighten restrictions on large media, and limit foreign ownership of the media. While no legislation has been introduced, there is concern that possible future proposals may limit foreign ownership of media sector as suggested by governing party politicians.
In the insurance sector, at least two management board members, including the chair, must speak Polish. The Law on Freedom of Economic Activity (LFEA) requires companies to obtain government concessions, licenses, or permits to conduct business in certain sectors, such as broadcasting, aviation, energy, weapons/military equipment, mining, and private security services. The LFEA also requires a permit from the Ministry of Development for certain major capital transactions (i.e., to establish a company when a wholly or partially Polish-owned enterprise has contributed in-kind to a company with foreign ownership by incorporating liabilities in equity, contributing assets, receivables, etc.). A detailed description of business activities that require concessions and licenses can be found here: https://www.paih.gov.pl/publications/how_to_do_business_in_Poland
Polish law restricts foreign investment in certain land and real estate. Land usage types such as technology and industrial parks, business and logistic centers, transport, housing plots, farmland in special economic zones, household gardens and plots up to two hectares are exempt from agricultural land purchase restrictions. Since May 2016, foreign citizens from European Economic Area member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as Switzerland, do not need permission to purchase any type of real estate including agricultural land. Investors from outside of the EEA or Switzerland need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration (with the consent of the Defense and Agriculture Ministries), pursuant to the Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Foreigners, prior to the acquisition of real estate or shares which give control of a company holding or leasing real estate. The permit is valid for two years from the day of issuance, and the ministry can issue a preliminary document valid for one year. Permits may be refused for reasons of social policy or public security. The exceptions to this rule include purchases of an apartment or garage, up to 0.4 hectares of undeveloped urban land, and “other cases provided for by law” (generally: proving a particularly close connection with Poland). Laws to restrict farmland and forest purchases (with subsequent amendments) came into force April 30, 2016 and are addressed in more detail in Section 6: Real Property.
Since September 2015, the Act on the Control of Certain Investments has provided for the national security-related screening of acquisitions in high-risk sectors including: energy generation and distribution; petroleum production, processing and distribution; telecommunications; media and mining; and manufacturing and trade of explosives, weapons and ammunition. Poland maintains a list of strategic companies which can be amended at any time, but is updated at least once a year, usually in late December. The national security review mechanism does not appear to constitute a de facto barrier for investment and does not unduly target U.S. investment. According to the Act, prior to the acquisition of shares of strategic companies (including the acquisition of proprietary interests in entities and/or their enterprises) the purchaser (foreign or local) must notify the controlling government body and receive approval. The obligation to inform the controlling government body applies to transactions involving the acquisition of a “material stake” in companies subject to special protection. The Act stipulates that failure to notify carries a fine of up to PLN 100,000,000 (approx. USD 25,000,000) or a penalty of imprisonment between six months and five years (or both penalties together) for a person acting on behalf of a legal person or organizational unit that acquires a material stake without prior notification.
The governing Law and Justice party formed a new treasury ministry to consolidate the government’s control over state-owned enterprises. The government dissolved Poland’s energy ministry, transferring that agency’s mandate to the new State Assets Ministry. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State Assets announced that he would seek to consolidate state-owned companies with similar profiles, including merging Poland’s largest state-owned firm Orlen with state-owned Energa. At the same time, the government is working on changing the rules of governing state-owned companies to have better control over the firms’ activities. A new government plenipotentiary for the reform of ownership oversight will be appointed.
As part of the COVID-19 anti-crisis shield, the Ministry of Development plans to offer two-year takeover protection for Polish firms with a minimum of EUR 10 million (almost $10 million) in turnover. The bill creates “a temporary complex framework of control over actions which could threaten the safety, order, and public health by entities from outside the EU and EEA,” according to authors of an impact study. Qualifications are extended for public firms, or firms from a variety of specified fields. The State Assets Ministry is preparing similar and more permanent measures.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Poland can be found here:
The Polish government has continued to implement reforms aimed at improving the investment climate with a special focus on the SME sector and innovations. Poland reformed its R&D tax incentives with new regulations and changes encouraging wider use of the R&D tax breaks. As of January 1, 2019, a new mechanism reducing the tax rate on income derived from intellectual property rights (IP Box) was introduced. Please see Section 5 of this report for more information.
A package of five laws referred to as the “Business Constitution”—intended to facilitate the operation of small domestic enterprises—was gradually introduced in 2018. The main principle of the Business Constitution is the presumption of innocence of business owners in dealings with the government.
Poland made enforcing contracts easier by introducing an automated system to assign cases to judges randomly. Despite these reforms and others, some investors have expressed serious concerns regarding over-regulation, over-burdened courts and prosecutors, and overly burdensome bureaucratic processes. The way tax audits are performed has changed considerably. For instance, in many cases the appeal against the findings of an audit now must be lodged with the authority that issued the initial finding rather than a higher authority or third party. Poland also enabled businesses to get electricity service faster by implementing a new customer service platform that allows the utility to better track applications for new commercial connections.
In Poland, business activity may be conducted in the forms of a sole proprietor, civil law partnership, as well as commercial partnerships and companies regulated in provisions of the Commercial Partnerships and Companies Code. Sole proprietor and civil law partnerships are registered in the Central Registration and Information on Business (CEIDG), which is housed by the Ministry of Development:
Commercial companies are classified as partnerships (registered partnership, professional partnership, limited partnership, and limited joint-stock partnership) and companies (limited liability company and joint-stock company). A partnership or company is registered in the National Court Register (KRS) and kept by the competent district court for the registered office of the established partnership or company. Local corporate lawyers report that starting a business remains costly in terms of time and money, though KRS registration in the National Court Register averages less than two weeks according to the Ministry of Justice and four weeks according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report.A 2018 law introduced a new type of company—PSA (Prosta Spółka Akcyjna – Simple Joint Stock Company). PSAs are meant to facilitate start-ups with simpler and cheaper registration procedures. The minimum initial capitalization is 1 PLN (approx. USD 0.26) while other types of registration require 5,000 PLN (approx. USD 1,315) or 50,000 PLN (approx. USD 13,158). A PSA has a board of directors, which merges the responsibilities of a management board and a supervisory board. The provision for PSAs will enter into force in March 2021.
New provisions of the Public Procurement Law (“PPL”) transposing provisions of EU directives coordinating the rules of public procurement came into force on October 18, 2018. These regulations apply to proceedings concerning contracts with a value equal to or exceeding the EU thresholds.
Polish lawmakers are gradually digitalizing the services of the KRS. The first change, which entered into force on March 15, 2018, was the obligation to file financial statements with the Repository of Financial Documents via the Ministry of Finance website. There is also a new requirement for representatives and shareholders of companies to submit statements on their addresses. A requirement to file financial statements exclusively in electronic form entered into force on October 1, 2018, and, beginning in March 2021, all applications will have to be filed with the commercial register electronically. A certified e-signature may be obtained from one of the commercial e-signature providers listed on the following website: https://www.nccert.pl/
The Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH), under the umbrella of the Polish Development Fund (PFR), plays a key role in promoting Polish investment abroad. More information on PFR can be found in Section 7 and at its website: https://pfr.pl/
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Development (formerly called the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology) have significantly reformed Poland’s economic diplomacy. The Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency (PAIiIZ) was reformed in February 2017 to become the Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH). Trade and Investment Promotion Sections in embassies and consulates around the world have been replaced by PAIH offices. These 70 offices worldwide constitute a global network and include six in the United States.
PAIH assists entrepreneurs with administrative and legal procedures related to specific projects as well as helps develop legal solutions and find suitable locations, and reliable partners and suppliers.
The Agency implements pro-export projects such as “the Polish Tech Bridges” dedicated to expansion of innovative Polish SMEs.
Poland is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Poland co-founded and actively supports the Three Seas Initiative, which seeks to improve north-south connections in road, energy, and telecom infrastructure in 12 countries on NATO’s and the EU’s eastern flank.
Under the Government Financial Support for Exports Program, the national development bank BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego) grants foreign buyers financing for the purchase of Polish goods and services. The program provides the following financing instruments: credit for buyers granted through the buyers’ bank; credit for buyers granted directly from BGK; the purchase of receivables on credit from the supplier under an export contract; documentary letters of credit post-financing; the discounting of receivables from documentary letters of credit; confirmation of documentary letters of credit; and export pre-financing. In May 2019, BGK and the Romanian development bank EximBank founded the Three Seas Fund, a commercial initiative to support the development of transport, energy and digital infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe. In July 2019, BGK, the European Investment Bank, and four other development banks (French Deposits and Consignments Fund, Italian Deposits and Loans Fund, the Spanish Official Credit Institute and German Credit Institute for Reconstruction), began the implementation of the “Joint Initiative on Circular Economy” (JICE), the goal of which is to eliminate waste, prevent its generation and increase the efficiency of resource management. BGK also opened two international offices in 2019: London and Frankfurt.
PFR TFI S.A, an entity under the umbrella of the state-owned financial group PFR, supports Polish investors planning to or already operating abroad. PFR TFI also manages the Foreign Expansion Fund (FEZ), which provides loans, on market terms, to foreign entities owned by Polish entrepreneurs. https://www.pfrtfi.pl/ and https://pfr.pl/en/offer/foreign-expansion-fund.html
Poland has laws, regulations, and penalties aimed at combating corruption of public officials and counteracting conflicts of interest. Anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to members of political parties who are members of parliament. There are also anti-corruption laws regulating the finances of political parties. According to a local NGO, an increasing number of companies are implementing voluntary internal codes of ethics. In 2019, the Transparency International (TI) index of perceived public corruption ranked Poland as the 41st (five places lower than in 2018 TI index) least corrupt among 180 countries/territories.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
The Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and national police investigate public corruption. The Justice Ministry and the police are responsible for enforcing Poland’s anti-corruption criminal laws. The Finance Ministry administers tax collection and is responsible for denying the tax deductibility of bribes. Reports of alleged corruption most frequently appear in connection with government contracting and the issuance of a regulation or permit that benefits a particular company. Allegations of corruption by customs and border guard officials, tax authorities, and local government officials show a decreasing trend. If such corruption is proven, it is usually punished.
Overall, U.S. firms have found that maintaining policies of full compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is effective in building a reputation for good corporate governance and that doing so is not an impediment to profitable operations in Poland. Poland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2006 and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 2000. Polish law classifies the payment of a bribe to a foreign official as a criminal offense, the same as if it were a bribe to a Polish official.
At its March 2018 meeting, the OECD Working Group on Bribery urged Poland to make progress on carrying out key recommendations that remain unimplemented more than four years after its Phase 3 evaluation in June 2013.
Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne (Central Anti-Corruption Bureau – CBA)
al. Ujazdowskie 9, 00-583 Warszawa
+48 800 808 808 email@example.com www.cba.gov.pl; link: Zglos Korupcje (report corruption)
The Public Integrity Program of the Batory Foundation, which served as a non-governmental watchdog organization, has been incorporated into a broader operational program (ForumIdei) run by the Foundation. The Batory Foundation continues to monitor public corruption, carries out research into this area and publishes reports on various aspects of the government’s transparency. Contact information for Batory Foundation is: firstname.lastname@example.org; 22 536 02 20.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Poland has a well-educated, skilled labor force. Productivity, however, remains below OECD averages but is rising rapidly and unit costs are competitive. In the last quarter of 2019, according to the Polish Central Statistical Office (GUS), the average gross wage in Poland was PLN 5,198 (approx. USD 1,293 per month) compared to 4,864 (approx. USD 1,200) in the last quarter of 2018. Poland’s economy employed roughly 16.619 million people in the third quarter of 2019. Eurostat measured total Polish unemployment at 2.9 percent, with youth unemployment at 7.9 percent in December 2019. GUS reports unemployment rates differently and tends to be higher than Eurostat figures. Unemployment varied substantially among regions: the highest rate was 8.6 percent (according to GUS ) in the north-eastern part of Poland (Warmia and Mazury), and the lowest was 2.8 percent (GUS) in the western province of Wielkopolska, at the end of the third quarter of 2019. Unemployment was lowest in major urban areas. Polish workers are usually eager to work for foreign companies, in Poland and abroad. Since Poland joined the EU, up to two million Poles have sought work in other EU member states.
A January 2018 revision of the Law on Promoting Employment and Labor Market Institutions introduced greater regulatory control over the “simplified procedure” of hiring foreigners from six countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Russia), which allows foreigners from these countries to work in Poland without a work permit for six months. According to the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy, 1.6 million “simplified procedure” work declarations were registered in 2019, of which almost 1.5 million were for Ukrainian workers (approximately the same number as a year earlier). Under the revised procedure, local authorities may verify if potential employers have actual job positions for potential foreign workers. The law also authorizes local authorities to refuse declarations from employers with a history of abuse, as well as to ban employers previously convicted of human trafficking from hiring foreign workers. The January 2018 revision also introduced a new type of work permit for foreign workers, the so-called seasonal work permit, which allow for legal work up to nine months in agriculture, horticulture, tourism and similar industries. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy statistics show that during 2019, 183,941 seasonal work permits of this type were issued, of which 179,466 went to Ukrainians. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy statistics also show that in 2019, 330,495 thousand Ukrainians received work permits, compared with 238,334 in 2017.
Polish companies suffer from a shortage of qualified workers. According to a 2020 report by the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policy, several industries suffer shortages, including the construction, manufacturing, and transportation industries. The most sought-after workers in the construction industry include concrete workers, steel fixers, carpenters, and bricklayers. Manufacturing companies seek welders, woodworkers, machinery operators, locksmiths, electricians, and electromechanical engineers. Employment has expanded in service industries such as information technology, manufacturing, and administrative and support service activities. The business process outsourcing industry in Poland has experienced dynamic growth. The state-owned sector employs about a quarter of the work force, although employment in coal mining and steel are declining.
Since 2017, the minimum retirement age for men has been 65, and 60 for women. Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and dismissal for cause (firing). In the case of layoffs (when workers are dismissed for economic reasons in companies which employ more than 20 employees), employers are required to offer severance pay. In the case of dismissal for cause, the labor law does not require severance pay.
Most workers hired under labor contracts have the legal right to establish and join independent trade unions and to bargain collectively. In January 2020, the revised law on trade unions entered into force, which expanded the right to form a union to persons who entered into an employment relationship based on a civil law contract and to persons who were self-employed. Trade union influence is declining, though unions remain powerful among miners, shipyard workers, government employees, and teachers. The Polish labor code outlines employee and employer rights in all sectors, both public and private, and has been gradually revised to adapt to EU standards. However, employers tend to use temporary and contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature. Employers have used short-term contracts because they allow firing with two weeks’ notice and without consulting trade unions. Employers also tend to use civil instead of labor contracts because of ease of hiring and firing, even in situations where work performed meets all the requirements of a regular labor contract.
Polish law requires equal pay for equal work and equal treatment with respect to signing labor contracts, employment conditions, promotion, and access to training. The law defines equal treatment as nondiscrimination in any way, directly or indirectly on the grounds of gender, age, disability, race, religion, nationality, political opinion, ethnic origin, denomination, sexual orientation, whether or not the person is employed temporarily or permanently, full time or part time.
The 1991 Law on Conflict Resolution defines the mechanism for labor dispute resolution. It consists of four stages: first, the employer is obliged to conduct negotiations with employees; the second stage is a mediation process, including an independent mediator; if an agreement is not reached through mediation, the third stage is arbitration, which takes place at the regional court; the fourth stage of conflict resolution is a strike.
The Polish government adheres to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core conventions and generally complies with international labor standards. However, there are several gaps in enforcing these standards, including legal restrictions on the rights of workers to form and join independent unions. Cumbersome procedures make it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike. The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors. There were some limitations with respect to identification of victims of forced labor. Despite prohibitions against discrimination with respect to employment or occupation, such discrimination occurs. Authorities do not consistently enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety, either in the formal or informal sectors.
The National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) is responsible for identifying possible labor violations; it may issue fines and notify the prosecutor’s office in cases of severe violations. According to labor unions, however, the NLI does not have adequate tools to hold violators accountable and the small fines imposed as punishment are an ineffective deterrent to most employers.
The United States has no FTA or preference program (such as GSP) with Poland that includes labor standards.
Spain is open to foreign investment and is actively seeking to attract additional investment. Spain enjoyed economic growth of at least three percent from 2015-2017, leading analysts to declare Spain’s recovery from the housing and financial crises of the past decade. Although growth slowed in 2018 and 2019, Spain continued to notch solid growth rates of at least 2.0 percent, outperforming most other EU member states. In 2019, Spanish GDP grew by 2.0 percent, and public debt fell to 95.5 percent of GDP, and unemployment dropped to 13.8 percent – the lowest level since 2008. In 2020, however, Spain’s economy has contracted dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although a strong economic rebound is expected in 2021, but Spain’s economy will take several years to recover to pre-crisis GDP levels. Service-based industries, particularly those related to tourism, are most vulnerable to the economic shock. The Spanish government’s fiscal position will also deteriorate as the Spanish government deploys fiscal stimulus, expands unemployment benefits, and garners less tax revenues as a result of the crisis. Spain’s key economic risks are high public debt levels, ballooning pension costs for its aging population, and the duality of the labor market.
In spite of COVID-19’s shock to the economy and a corresponding spike in Spain’s already high unemployment rate, Spain’s excellent infrastructure, large domestic market and access to the European Common Market, well-educated workforce, and robust export possibilities remain draws for foreign investors. Spanish law permits foreign ownership in investments up to 100 percent, and capital movements are completely liberalized. According to Spanish data, in 2019, foreign direct investment flow into Spain was EUR 22.4 billion, 54.8 percent less than in 2018. Of this total, EUR 609 million came from the United States, the eighth largest investor in Spain in new foreign direct investment. Foreign investment is concentrated in the energy, real estate, finance and insurance, engineering, and construction sectors.
Since its 2008 financial crisis and subsequent fiscal and financial reforms, Spain’s access to affordable financing from international financial markets has increased, which has improved Spain’s credibility and solvency, in turn generating more investor confidence. Spain’s credit ratings were raised in 2018 and 2019, and Spanish issuances of public debt have been oversubscribed, reflecting strong investor appetite for investment in Spain. However, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—which account for more than 99 percent of Spanish businesses—still have some difficulty accessing credit and are likely to face additional hurdles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Defaults on loans to both small businesses and consumers are likely to rise after steadily falling from their 2014 peaks.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign direct investment (FDI) has played a significant role in modernizing the Spanish economy during the past 40 years. Attracted by Spain’s large domestic market, export possibilities, and growth potential, foreign companies set up operations in large numbers. Spain’s automotive industry is mostly foreign-owned. Multinationals control half of the food production companies, one-third of chemical firms, and two-thirds of the cement sector. Several foreign investment funds acquired networks from Spanish banks, and foreign firms control about one-third of the insurance market.
The Government of Spain recognizes the value of foreign investment. Spain offers investment opportunities in sectors and activities with significant added value. Spanish law permits 100 percent foreign ownership in investments (limits apply regarding audio-visual broadcast licenses and strategic sectors of the economy; see next section), and capital movements are completely liberalized. Due to its degree of openness and the favorable legal framework for foreign investment, Spain has received significant foreign investments in knowledge-intensive activities
New FDI into Spain declined by 54.8 percent in 2019 from its peak in 2018, according to Spain’s Industry, Trade, and Tourism Ministry data. Compared with the average between 2015 and 2017, 2019 was only slightly lower. In 2019, 30.1 percent of total gross investments were investments in new facilities or the expansion of productive capacity, while 34.0 percent of gross investments were in acquisitions of existing companies. In 2019 the United States had a gross direct investment in Spain of EUR 609 million, accounting for 2.7 percent of total investment and representing a decrease of 38.1 percent compared to 2018. U.S. FDI stock in Spain stayed relatively steady between 2013 (USD 33.9 billion) to 2017 (USD 33.1 billion).
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Spain has a favorable legal framework for foreign investors. Spain has adapted its foreign investment rules to a system of general liberalization, without distinguishing between EU residents and non-EU residents. Law 18/1992, which established rules on foreign investments in Spain, provides a specific regime for non-EU persons investing in certain sectors: national defense-related activities, gambling, television, radio, and air transportation. For EU residents, the only sectors with a specific regime are the manufacture and trade of weapons or national defense-related activities. For non-EU companies, the Spanish government restricts individual ownership of audio-visual broadcasting licenses to 25 percent. Specifically, Spanish law permits non-EU companies to own a maximum of 25 percent of a company holding a digital terrestrial television broadcasting license; and for two or more non-EU companies to own a maximum of 50 percent in aggregate. In addition, under Spanish law a reciprocity principle applies (art. 25.4 General Audiovisual Law). The home country of the (non-EU) foreign company must have foreign ownership laws that permit a Spanish company to make the same transaction.
The Spanish government issued new regulations on foreign investment in March 2020. In Royal Decree-Law 8/2020, subsequently modified by Royal Decree 11/2020, the government prohibited the acquisition by foreign investors of 10 percent or more of companies active in sectors listed below. Purchases of less than 10 percent are also subject to authorization if they result in participation in the control/management of the company.
The sectors covered are:
critical infrastructures, both physical and virtual (energy, transport, water, healthcare, communications, media, data storage and processing, aerospace, defense, finance, and sensitive installations)
critical technology and dual-use products;
essential supplies (energy, hydrocarbons, electricity, raw materials and food);
sectors with sensitive information such as personal data or with capacity to control such information and;
Under these 2020 Royal Decrees, foreign investment in any industry is also required to receive approval beforehand if the foreign investor is controlled directly or indirectly by the government of another country, if the investor has invested or participated in sectors affecting the security, public order, or public health in another EU Member State, or if administrative or judicial proceedings have been initiated against the investor for exercising illegal or criminal activities. Investments under EUR 1 million are exempted, investments between EUR 1 and 5 million follow a simplified procedure.
The Spanish Constitution and Spanish law establish clear rights to private ownership, and foreign firms receive the same legal treatment as Spanish companies. There is no discrimination against public or private firms with respect to local access to markets, credit, licenses, and supplies.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Spain is a signatory to the convention on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Spain is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Spain has not conducted Investment Policy Reviews with these three organizations within the past three years.
To set up a company in Spain, the two basic requirements include incorporation before a Public Notary and filing with the Mercantile Register (Registro Mercantil). The public deed of incorporation of the company must be submitted. It can be submitted electronically by the Public Notary. The Central Mercantile Register is an official institution that provides access to companies’ information supplied by the Regional Mercantile Registers after January 1, 1990. Any national or foreign company can use it but must also be registered and pay taxes and fees. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, the process to start a business in Spain should take about two weeks.
“Invest in Spain” is the Spanish investment promotion agency to facilitate foreign investment. Services are available to all investors.
Among the financial instruments approved by the Spanish Government to provide official support for the internationalization of Spanish enterprise are the Foreign Investment Fund (FIEX), the Fund for Foreign Investment by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (FONPYME), the Enterprise Internationalization Fund (FIEM), and the Fund for Investment in the tourism sector (FINTUR). The Spanish Government also offers financing lines for investment in the electronics, information technology and communications, energy (renewables), and infrastructure concessions sectors.
Spain has a wide variety of laws, regulations, and penalties to address corruption. The legal regime has both civil and criminal sanctions for corruption, bribery, financial malfeasance, etc. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act. Under Section 1255 of the Spanish civil code, corporations and individuals are prohibited from deducting bribes from domestic tax computations. There are laws against tax evasion and regulations for banks and financial institutions to fight money laundering terrorist financing. In addition, the Spanish Criminal Code provides for jail sentences and hefty fines for corporations’ (legal persons) administrators who receive illegal financing.
The Spanish government continues to build on its already strong measures to combat money laundering. After the European Commission threatened to sanction Spain for failing to bring its anti-money laundering regulations in full accordance with the EU’s Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive, in 2018, Spain approved measures to modify its money laundering legislation to comply with the EU Directive. These measures establish new obligations for companies to license or register service providers, including identifying ultimate beneficial owners; institute harsher penalties for money laundering offenses; and create public and private whistleblower channels for alleged offenses.
The General State Prosecutor is authorized to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving funds in excess of roughly USD 500,000. The Office of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor, a subordinate unit of the General State Prosecutor, investigates and prosecutes domestic and international bribery allegations. The Audiencia Nacional, a corps of magistrates has broad discretion to investigate and prosecute alleged instances of Spanish businesspeople bribing foreign officials.
Spain enforces anti-corruption laws on a generally uniform basis. Public officials are subjected to more scrutiny than private individuals, but several wealthy and well-connected business executives have been successfully prosecuted for corruption. In 2019, Spanish courts conducted 42 corruption cases involving 170 defendants. The courts issued 102 sentences, with 39 including a full or partial guilty verdict.
There is no obvious bias for or against foreign investors. U.S. firms have rarely identified corruption as an obstacle to investment in Spain, although entrenched incumbents have frequently attempted and at times succeeded in blocking the growth of U.S. franchises and technology platforms in both Madrid and Barcelona. As a result, Spain is among the least welcoming countries in Europe for some of the U.S.’s leading technology companies. Although no formal corruption complaints have been lodged, U.S. companies have indicated that they have been disqualified at times from public tenders based on reasons that these companies’ legal counsels did not consider justifiable.
Spain’s rank in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index improved slightly in 2019, with the country climbing to position 30 (from 41 in 2018); however, its overall score (62) is one of the lowest among Western European countries.
Spain is a signatory of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery and the UN Convention Against Corruption. It has also been a member of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) since 1999. The OECD has noted concerns about the low level of foreign bribery enforcement in Spain and the lack of implementation of the enforcement-related recommendations. In a 2019 report, GRECO highlighted that of the group’s 11 recommendations to combat corruption from 2013, only two had been fully implemented, eight had been partly implemented, and one had not been implemented.
Spain’s unemployment rate fell to 13.8 percent at the end of 2019, down from 14.7 percent at the beginning of the year, and continued its downward trend from a peak of 26.9 percent in 2013. The youth unemployment rate fell to 30.5 percent at the end of 2019, an improvement of almost three percentage points from 2018, but still representing 454,400 unemployed people under the age of 25. Spain’s economically active population totaled 23.1 million people, of whom 19.9 million were employed and 3.2 million unemployed. Foreign nationals represented 12.4 percent of Spain’s workforce in 2019. In 2020, employment numbers worsened significantly due to the global pandemic.
The labor market is mainly divided into permanent workers with full benefits and temporary workers with many fewer benefits. In the event of dismissal for an objective reason (e.g. economic reasons), severance pay is made available to the worker and amounts to 20 days’ wages per year of service with a maximum of 12 months’ wages. A worker dismissed for disciplinary reasons is not entitled to severance pay. For termination of a fixed term contract (either its term expiration or completion of the work), the worker is entitled to a severance payment of 12 days per year of service. Under Spanish Labor law, an employee may bring a claim against the employer for unfair dismissal within 20 days of receiving a termination letter.
Mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of individual labor disputes in Spain are developed by labor laws and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems through collective bargaining agreements. Each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities has a different ADR system at different levels generally dealing with collective disputes. Spanish law stipulates that, before taking individual labor disputes to court in search of a solution, parties must first attempt to reach agreement through conciliation or mediation.
The Spanish Public Employment Service (SEPE) under the Ministry of Employment, and Social Economy administers unemployment benefits called the Contributory Unemployment Protection. This benefit protects those who can and wish to work but become unemployed temporarily or permanently, or those whose normal working day is reduced by a minimum of 10 percent and a maximum of 70 percent.
Collective bargaining is widespread in both the private and public sectors. A high percentage of the working population is covered by collective bargaining agreements, although only a minority (generally estimated to be about 10 percent) of those covered are actually union members. Large employers generally have individual collective agreements, while smaller companies use industry-wide or regional agreements. Business-level agreements currently hold primacy over sectoral and regional agreements. Collective labor agreements must be renegotiated within one year of expiration.
The Constitution guarantees the right to strike, and this right has been interpreted to include the right to call general strikes to protest government policy.