EU, Berlin oppose Chinese bid for ‘strategic’ German robotics maker

Eva Kaili describes how EU lawmakers can create the best environment for robotics. [BMW Werk Leipzig/Wikimedia]

Top officials in Brussels and Berlin oppose a Chinese takeover bid of German industrial robotics supplier Kuka, a newspaper reported on Monday (30 May).

“Kuka is a successful company in a strategic sector that is of key importance for the digital future of European industry,” European Digital Economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Oettinger also questioned whether China would allow a foreign company to take a stake in such a strategic company and said “I’m afraid not”.

The German politician added that “since there was no call for help to China, it is reasonable to ask whether a European solution ― such as an offer from one of the other two major shareholders, or capital input from other European companies ― would not be the better solution”.

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Oettinger, the only German EU commissioner, echoed remarks by German government sources last week, who cautioned against an outflow of technology and said they were keeping a close eye on Chinese investments in the country.

Chinese appliance giant Midea ― best known for its washing machines and air conditioners ― last week launched a takeover offer for Kuka.

It is seeking at least a 30% stake in a deal that values Kuka at €4.6 billion. Midea already holds a 13.5% stake in Kuka.

German Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel had also voiced concern about the proposed deal at a cabinet meeting last week, the daily reported in an excerpt of an article to be published Tuesday.

On the record, Gabriel’s ministry says the government does not involve itself in business affairs, said the report.

Kuka, based in the southern German city of Augsburg, describes itself as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of industrial robots but also offers automated systems for manufacturing.

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As robots play a more important role in the EU, moving from manufacturing to healthcare, Europeans are becoming more suspicious of the technology, a Eurobarometer survey shows.

Midea is a leading consumer appliances maker as well as China’s biggest producer of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Its global turnover was more than $22 billion last year, according to its website.

A Kuka spokeswoman said the company it is generally open to partners that support its growth in China or the industrial Internet, in which smart factory systems are becoming increasingly connected.

Kuka said on Monday that it is assessing the Midea offer without prejudice.


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