Era of openess threatens our traditional loyalties

The traditionally insular and protectionist German business culture is changing. Partly driven from within, but also triggered by outside forces, Germany is being dragged into the multinational business world.

At the start of the year, one of the country's leading firms entered into a high-profile menage a trois creating a truly global business. The Clifford Chance/Rogers & Wells/

Punder Volhard Weber & Axster giant signalled a realisation that Germany could not stand alone as the forces of multinational business carved up the markets.

Then Vodafone AirTouch, the UK-US telecoms giant, busily repositioning itself as global new media player had the temerity to suggest a takeover of Mannesmann an almost iconic German firm. Thinking a simple "nein danke" would suffice, the company carried on, only to find Vodafone launching a hostile and ultimately successful takeover bid. Despite an advertising campaign tugging at shareholders' patriotic heartstrings, the giant fell – the first successful hostile takeover in the country's history.

And now Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Cameron McKenna and Theodore Goddard have stormed their way onto German banking giant Commerzbank AG's first panel of law firms.

It is not just the idea of foreign firms advising a German bank, it is the fact that the bank readily admits that firms will compete against each other. It could only be a matter of time before the likes of Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Laber and Hengeler Mueller Weitzel Wirtz find themselves pitching for business they took for granted. At first sight, such open competition is good for UK firms. Winning a place on international panels opens up new business opportunities, but the Vodafone story may hint at a more worrying trend.

As traditionally national companies, even giants the size of Mannesmann, fall to multinational conglomerates, contracts that firms may have taken for granted may too fall. The new businesses may not respect of old friends.