Bonn wants faster freeing of telecoms

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THE GERMAN government yesterday threatened to force the pace on liberalising its telecommunications market if it could not win approval from its European Union partners for a common approach.

Wolfgang Botsch, the Post and Telecommunication Minister, said Germany would use its EU presidency to seek agreement on a deadline for ending the monopolies on owning telephone networks. If no such consensus can be reached before the end of 1994, Mr Botsch said, 'then we shall have to consider breaking the network monopoly on our own'. While EU countries have already agreed to lift the monopolies on voice transmissions from 1 January 1998, the issue of extending this to the ownership and operation of lines remains fiercely contested.

The Bonn government is under pressure from big private industrial groups anxious to expand and commercialise their own data networks. State-owned Deutsche Telekom is to be transformed into a stock company next year, prior to being sold off in 1996 in a privatisation expected to be valued at between DM15bn ( pounds 6.25bn) and DM20bn.

Mr Botsch's remarks yesterday suggested an important shift in German government thinking on two fronts. Bonn's policy until now has been to move in harmony with its partners, but there has been growing frustration with those such as France seen to be stalling on liberalising line ownership.

Second, the government has previously supported ending the network monopoly some two years after liberalising voice transmission. Now, Mr Botsch said, it is increasingly inclined to do both simultaneously. This new line has provoked a storm of protest from Telekom itself.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa yesterday said existing shareholders would be able to buy new shares for DM160 each in its DM1.2bn capital increase. New investors would be able to buy shares at a price to be announced on 29 September according to market demand. The state's holding in Lufthansa will be reduced from 51 to about 41 per cent, the first stage in a complete sell-off.