Commerzbank Labor Rep Vows ‘Blood’ Before Italian Bank Takeover

(Bloomberg) -- Commerzbank AG’s labor representatives would strongly oppose a potential takeover of the lender by an Italian bank, a supervisory board member of the German lender said on Monday.

“A lot of blood will spill before we merge with the Italians,” Stefan Wittmann, a Verdi union official and labor representative on Commerzbank’s supervisory board, said during a panel discussion in Berlin, without naming any bank. “The resistance we showed in the merger talks with Deutsche Bank is nothing compared to what we would do if a large Italian bank were to try to take over Commerzbank.”

Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank AG last month decided to end merger talks amid heavy opposition to the deal from labor representatives, including Wittmann. Foreign banks including ING Group NV of the Netherlands and Italy’s UniCredit SpA may now be interested in Commerzbank, people familiar with the matter have said, stoking speculation about a potential foreign takeover now that the Deutsche Bank option is off the table.

Wittmann also praised the track record in Germany of ING.

“There are models that we as labor representatives support,” Wittmann said. One example would be “if a foreign acquirer wants to shift their corporate headquarters to Germany.” In informal talks, ING offered to move its HQ from the Netherlands to Germany, according to a magazine report.

“There must be a strategy decision” by Commerzbank’s top management, Wittmann said. “If you’ve said once you can’t go it alone and afterward that you can, then you have to make a decision at some point.”

Commerzbank’s separate turnaround plans have failed to deliver some of the desired results, leading many investors to question them. Chief Executive Officer Martin Zielke has said that he will provide an update on the bank’s targets in the fall.

During the talks with Deutsche Bank, Zielke sent a memo to staff in which he said that “the alternative of doing nothing is not an option.” Many saw it as an admission that Commerzbank needs to merge with a rival to achieve the scale required for healthy profitability. The bank has since repeatedly highlighted that it has a future even if it remains independent.

UniCredit Chief Executive Officer Jean Pierre Mustier said on Bloomberg TV today that the bank is focused on organic growth.

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