Germany - Country Commercial Guide
Selling to the Public Sector

Describes how major projects are secured and financed. Explains activities of the multilateral development banks in and other aid-funded projects.

Last published date: 2020-10-06

Selling to German government entities is not an easy process. German government procurement is formally non-discriminatory and compliant with the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) and EU-wide legislation under the EU Public Procurement Directives. That said, it is a major challenge to compete head-to-head with major German or other EU suppliers who have established long-term ties with purchasing entities.

EU Legislation

Government procurement in Europe is governed by both international obligations under the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) and EU-wide legislation under the EU Public Procurement Directives. U.S.-based companies can bid on public tenders covered by the GPA, while European subsidiaries of U.S. companies may bid on all public procurement contracts covered by the EU Directives in the European Union.

The EU directives on public procurement have been revised and legislation on concession has also been adopted. Member States were required to transpose the provisions of the new directives by April 16, 2016.  The four relevant directives are:

  • Directive 2014/24/EU (replacing Directive 2004/18/EC) on the coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts applies to the general sector.
  • Directive 2014/25/EU (replacing Directive 2004/17/EC) coordinates the procurement procedures of entities operating in the water, energy, transport, and postal services sectors.
  • Directive 2009/81/EC on defense and sensi­tive security pro­cure­ment. This Directive sets Com­munity rules for the pro­cure­ment of arms, muni­tions and war material (plus related works and ser­vices) for defense pur­poses, but also for the pro­curement of sensi­tive supp­lies, works and ser­vices for non-mili­tary security pur­poses.
  • Directive 2014/23/EU on the award of concession contracts. A concession contract (either for the delivery of works or services) is conducted between a public authority and a private enterprise that gives the right to the company to build infrastructure and operate businesses that would normally fall within the jurisdiction of the public authority (e.g. highways).

The EU has “remedies” directives imposing common standards for all member states to abide by in case bidders identify discriminatory public procurement practices.

Electronic versions of the procurement documentation must be available through an internet URL immediately upon publication of the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) contract notice. Full electronic communication (with some exceptions) are mandatory for all public contracts since October 2018. Central purchasing bodies are required to publish their contracts and requests for tenders since April 2017.

Electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) was introduced beginning of the 3rd quarter of 2018, based on the requirement set forth in Directive 2014/55/EU. The Directive makes the receipt and processing of electronic invoices in public procurement obligatory. Standards for e-invoicing are being developed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN).

There are restrictions for U.S. suppliers in the EU utilities sector, both in the EU Utilities Directive and in EU coverage of the GPA. Article 85 of Directive 2014/25 allows EU contracting authorities to either reject non-EU bids where the proportion of goods originating in non-EU countries exceeds 50 percent or give preference to the EU bid if prices are equivalent (meaning within a three percent margin). Moreover, the Directive allows EU contracting authorities to retain the right to suspend or restrict the award of service contract to undertakings in third countries where no reciprocal access is granted.

There are also restrictions in the EU coverage of the GPA that apply specifically to U.S.-based companies.  U.S. companies are not allowed to bid on works and services contracts procured by sub-central public contracting authorities in the following sectors:

  • Water sector
  • Airport services
  • Urban transport sector as described above, and railways in general
  • Dredging services and procurement related to shipbuilding

U.S. companies bidding on Government tenders may also qualify for U.S. Government advocacy. A unit of the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, the Advocacy Center coordinates U.S. Government interagency advocacy efforts on behalf of U.S. exporters bidding on public sector contracts with international governments and government agencies. The Advocacy Center works closely with our network of the U.S. Commercial Service worldwide and inter-agency partners to ensure that exporters of U.S. products and services have the best possible chance of winning government contracts. Advocacy assistance can take many forms but often involves the U.S. Embassy or other U.S. Government agencies expressing support for the U.S. bidders directly to the foreign government. Consult with the Advocacy Center on foreign government contracts and for additional information.

Project Financing

Germany possesses the financial framework and institutions to support the development of large infrastructure projects. However, the volume of project finance operations has been relatively modest in Germany in comparison to that of other EU countries, particularly the U.K. and France. Although the relatively high debt levels of the German federal government and local authorities would seem to favor this type of financing, difficult economic conditions have also limited anticipated rates of return for potential project finance developers. Other inhibiting factors are Germany’s complex juridical and federal frameworks, which make project-financed works harder to structure than in other countries. Low interest rates and returns on savings have contributed to an improved investment climate. One area that has attracted project finance, including that involving a few U.S. developers and investors, is alternative energy production. Clean and renewable energy projects have gained prominence in Germany, particularly since the decision in 2011 to accelerate the phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022 and the decision in June 2020 to end coal power generation in Germany by 2038, at the latest.

The principal German institutions active in facilitating project finance deals are the state-owned KfW Bank Group (which plays a major role in most industries), commercial banks such as the Commerzbank, and several of the publicly-owned savings banks controlled by state and local governments (Landesbanken) located in northern Germany. The KfW Group includes KfW IPEX-Bank, which supports a consortia with German members to design and finance infrastructure projects in Germany and overseas, and KfW Capital, launched in October 2018 to develop the VC and VD funding landscape in Germany and Europe. Another group member, KfW Development Bank (Förderbank), helps municipalities finance infrastructure. German insurers are pressing for regulatory changes to enable them to finance infrastructure projects.

Financing Web Resources

Trade Finance Guide: A Quick Reference for U.S. Exporters, published by the International Trade Administration’s Industry & Analysis team

Export-Import Bank of the United States

Country Limitation Schedule

Development Finance Corpoation

Trade and Development Agency

SBA’s Office of International Trade

USDA Commodity Credit Corporation

U.S. Agency for International Development

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) 

U.S. Commercial Service Liaison Office to the EBRD

KfW Bank Group

The German Bankers’ Association

Federal Financial Supervisory Authority