German State Presses Effort to Land Vodafone After Brexit Vote

  • North Rhine-Westphalia also contacting Japanese, Chinese firms
  • State economy minister ‘personally campaigning’ for Dusseldorf

Germany’s most populous state is gearing up efforts to bring the headquarters of Vodafone Group Plc. to its capital, Dusseldorf, after the British phone carrier said it can’t rule out leaving the U.K. because of the country’s decision to quit the European Union.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s Economy Minister Garrelt Duin is “personally campaigning” for Dusseldorf and the state could help Vodafone with real estate and legal issues, his spokesman, Matthias Kietzmann, said Friday by phone. The state is also contacting Japanese and Chinese companies with European headquarters in London, he said.

Vodafone’s German unit Vodafone Deutschland, which employs about 14,000 and is headquartered in Dusseldorf, is the carrier’s biggest national subsidiary. It was formed after Vodafone in 2000 spent 179.3 billion euros ($200 billion) to buy Dusseldorf-based Mannesmann AG, then an industry giant with more than 130,000 employees.

“There are no discussions, no plans and no decisions whatsoever regarding any change to the location of our group headquarters," Vodafone said Friday in an e-mailed statement.

Vodafone dangled the possibility of a move this week, as business leaders lobby the U.K. government to reach a business-friendly deal governing the country’s future relationship with the EU. It’s one of the clearest indications yet of the potential economic fallout from the decision, given that Vodafone employs about 13,000 workers in Britain.

While some European officials like those in North Rhine-Westphalia are angling for ways to benefit from the U.K.’s exit, others are warning against “divide the spoils” approach. France’s finance minister, Michel Sapin, did so Friday, saying it would be both wrong and damaging.

“I didn’t appreciate the red carpet when it was rolled out to France and I don’t intend to roll it out the other way” to bring business here, Sapin told reporters in Aix-en-Provence, France, on Friday.

For more on European jockeying for Brexit spoils, click here.

Vodafone, which is based in Newbury, England, and has offices in London, hasn’t decided on the long-term location of its headquarters, and is monitoring the U.K.’s response to last week’s referendum, it said Tuesday. The decision will depend on whether the company retains access to the EU’s “freedom of movement of people, capital and goods,” Vodafone said in the June 28 statement.

“It remains unclear at this point how many of those positive attributes will remain in place once the process of the U.K.’s exit from the European Union has been completed,” Vodafone said then. “It is therefore not yet possible to draw any firm conclusions regarding the long-term location for the headquarters of the group.”

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