Global Economics

Qatar Sets Its Sights on German Industry


Even if potential investments in Porsche or Volkswagen don't happen, the wealthy oil emirate has its eye on other German investments

The telephones have been ringing off the hook for weeks. From Doha to Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg or to Porsche's base in Zuffenhausen near Stuttgart—German automakers cherish the calls from Qatar's capital city.

There's no decision yet on whether the emirate will end up buying a stake in Porsche (PSHG_P.DE) or in Volkswagen (VOWG.DE), the two carmakers locked in an escalating power struggle. While the two carmakers rush out public statements almost every day, Qatar is keeping mum, which begs the question what the country is planning.

Little is known of its business plans but it's clear that the tiny country with a population of just 250,000 has embarked on a shopping spree in Europe, and is showing particular interest in Germany. Like many other Gulf states, Qatar wants to reduce its dependence on oil production by snapping up Western know-how and securing stakes in key Western industries.

Gaining Know-How for Domestic Consumption

Qatar has two goals, says Martin Böll, the Dubai correspondent of Germany Trade & Invest, a firm that advises foreign companies that want to expand into the German market. "They want to invest excess capital, secure long-term revenues and diversify. And they also want to obtain know-how for their domestic economy in order to generate jobs in this way," he says.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, is very picky. He has been scrutinizing the auto market and especially the big, shiny, expensive brands that are so popular in the Arab world. It's no coincidence that Porsche and Volkswagen have caught his eye.

Money is no object for the Emir, who is reported to have three wives and 15 children. His sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), has invested an estimated $60 billion worldwide. Experts say the fund has an extra $20 billion at its disposal every year.

Immense Wealth

"The country is so rich that it doesn't know where to put its money," says Böll. Its wealth stems from its gigantic oil and gas reserves. In recent years Qatar has advanced to become one of the world's biggest exporters of liquid gas, which is the main source of income for the sovereign fund.

The QIA is headed by the Emir's cousin, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who is Prime Minister of Qatar. He is believed to be controlling negotiations with Porsche and Volkswagen, and the decision on whether to invest will be up to him. Media reports say he is backed by the Emir's second wife, Musa, the education minister. She is regarded as a car fan and as a supporter of the planned investment in Porsche/VW.

But the ruling family is unlikely to tolerate the raging dispute between Volkswagen and Porsche for much longer. "They won't sit and wait for another three months," one insider told Spiegel Online. The QIA will only invest if Porsche and VW reach agreement—and if the emirate is explicitly desired as a partner.

But even if the deal falls apart, that doesn't rule out other investments in Germany. "They've got the money and they want to invest it, in Germany if possible," said the industry expert.

Provided by Spiegel Online—Read the latest from Europe's largest newsmagazine

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