German publishing group Axel Springer Verlag has asked the nation’s government to relax restrictions on mergers and acquisitions involving regional newspapers.

Mathias Döpfner, head of Springer’s newspaper operations, met with chancellor Gerhard Schröder and insisted that the laws be altered, though it is as yet unknown exactly what changes the company wants.

At present, any merger involving publishing houses boasting over DM50 million in sales must be referred to the Federal Cartel Office. The laws were tightened in 1976 following a wave of acquisitions in order to prevent the larger publishers swallowing regional newspapers and narrowing the range of press opinion.

Springer is keen to have the rules relaxed to aid its involvement in the widely expected consolidation of the German newspaper market. “We represent the views of many other publishing houses,” said the company. One such publisher is WAZ-Gruppe, an executive of which, Lutz Glandt, argued that a change in the law was necessary to prevent the company becoming a “takeover target for an international media giant ten years from now.”

However, the proposal was savaged by trade unions, which argued that it would lead to merger-related job losses and a restriction of press opinion.

Moreover, the Federal Cartel Office added that it did not think a change in the regulations necessary, pointing out that of one hundred merger proposals referred to it by Springer since 1990, only two had been blocked.

News source: Handelsblatt (Germany)