The Statement on Corporate Governance contains the Declaration of Conformity, relevant information on practices within the company, and a description of the procedures of the corporate bodies, as well as targets for the percentage of positions held by women and the diversity policy.
Joint report of the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board including Declaration of Conformity
The German Corporate Governance Code is geared toward the conditions found in a German stock corporation (“Aktiengesellschaft” or “AG”) and does not take into consideration the special characteristics of a corporation with general partners (“Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien” or “KGaA”) such as Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. Given the structural differences between an AG and a KGaA, several recommendations of the German Corporate Governance Code are to be applied to a KGaA only in a modified form. Major differences between the two legal forms exist in terms of liability and management. While, in the case of an AG, only the AG is liable as a legal entity, the general partners of a KGaA also have unlimited personal liability for the company’s obligations (section 278  of the German Stock Corporation Act [AktG]). At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, this pertains to both E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany – which pursuant to article 8 (5) of the Articles of Association is excluded from management and representation – as well as to the managing general partners, who together make up the Executive Board of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. The members of the Executive Board of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, are therefore subject to unlimited personal liability. Unlike an AG, their executive authority is not conferred by the Supervisory Board, but rather by their status as general partners. Consequently, in addition to other responsibilities typical of the supervisory board of an AG (see description of the procedures of the Supervisory Board), the supervisory board of a KGaA does not have the authority to appoint the management board, draw up management board contracts, or specify compensation of the management board. This legal form also involves special features with regard to the General Meeting. For example, in a KGaA, many of the resolutions made require the consent of the general partners (section 285  AktG), including in particular the adoption of the annual financial statements (section 286  AktG).
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, applies the German Corporate Governance Code analogously where these regulations are compatible with the legal form of a KGaA. In order to enable shareholders to compare the situation at other companies more easily, to a broad extent we base corporate governance on the conduct recommendations made by the Government Commission of the German Corporate Governance Code and forgo having our own, equally permissible, code. The recommendations of the Code in the version dated February 7, 2017, the intent and meaning of which are applied, have been complied with since the last Declaration of Conformity issued on February 3, 2020, in the version updated on February 27, 2020, with one exception. In future, we aim to comply with the recommendations of the Code in the version dated December 16, 2019.
For a clearer understanding, the following gives a general explanation of the application of German company law at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, with additional references to the General Meeting and shareholder rights.
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
The general partner E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany, holds around 70% of the total capital of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany (equity interest); the shareholders hold the remainder, which is divided into shares (share capital). E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany, is excluded from the management of business activities. The general partners with no equity interest (Executive Board) manage the business activities. Nevertheless, due to its substantial capital investment and unlimited personal liability, E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany, has a strong interest in the businesses of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, operating efficiently in compliance with procedures. The participation of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, in the profit/loss of E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany, in accordance with articles 26 et seq. of the Articles of Association further harmonizes the interests of the shareholders and of E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany. E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany, appoints and dismisses the Executive Board. In addition, E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany, has created bodies – complementing the expertise and activities of the Supervisory Board – to monitor and advise the Executive Board. This task applies primarily to the Board of Partners of E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany.
Based on the provisions of the German Stock Corporation Act, the Articles of Association of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and the rules of procedure of the various committees, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has a set of rules for the Executive Board and its supervision that meet the requirements of the German Corporate Governance Code. The investors, who bear the entrepreneurial risk, are protected as provided for by the German Corporate Governance Code. We take suggestions from the capital market on corporate governance seriously and hold discussions with investors and shareholder representatives.
The General Meeting of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
The 25th Annual General Meeting of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, was held on May 28, 2020, in Darmstadt, Germany. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Executive Board decided, with the approval of the Supervisory Board, to hold the 2020 Annual General Meeting in virtual form, i.e. without the shareholders and their proxies attending in person. In doing so, it took the option provided by the legislation introduced by the act on mitigating the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic in civil, insolvency, and criminal procedure law (Gesetz zur Abmilderung der Folgen der Covid-19-Pandemie im Zivil-, Insolvenz- und Strafverfahrensrecht). Shareholders and shareholder representatives participated in the General Meeting virtually. The meeting was broadcast audiovisually on the Internet in full. At 69.44%, the proportion of share capital represented at the meeting (including postal votes) was slightly higher than in the previous year. In 2019, the proportion of share capital represented was 66.96%. The Annual General Meeting service provider does not forward voting instructions to our company in advance of the Annual General Meeting, but keeps them in the system until the count takes place.
In particular, the Annual General Meeting passes resolutions concerning the approval of the annual financial statements, the appropriation of net retained profit, the approval of the actions of the Executive Board members and the Supervisory Board members, as well as the election of the auditor. Changes to the Articles of Association likewise require the adoption of a resolution by the General Meeting. The shareholders of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, exercised their rights at the virtual Annual General Meeting using the Internet-based General Meeting system and via a prior question and answer process. They were able to exercise their voting rights personally, through an authorized representative, or through a proxy appointed by the company. The proxies were in attendance throughout the duration of the General Meeting. All the documents and information concerning upcoming General Meetings (including a summary explanation of shareholder rights) are also posted on our website. The introductory speech by the Chairman of the Executive Board was published in advance on the Internet on May 25, 2020, in order to make it available to interested shareholders and members of the public and thus satisfy the high transparency requirements of the Group.
Declaration of Conformity
In accordance with section 161 AktG, applying the provisions of the German Corporate Governance Code correspondingly, the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board issued the following Declaration of Conformity with the recommendations of the Government Commission of the German Corporate Governance Code:
“Declaration of the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, on the recommendations of the Government Commission of the German Corporate Governance Code pursuant to section 161 of the German Stock Corporation Act (AktG). Since the last Declaration of Conformity on February 3, 2020, in the version updated on February 27, 2020, we have complied with the recommendations of the Government Commission of the German Corporate Governance Code in the version dated February 7, 2017, as published in the official section of the German Federal Gazette, with the following exception: Contrary to section 5.3.2 of the German Corporate Governance Code, the Supervisory Board has not established an audit committee. However, an audit committee does exist in the form of the Finance Committee of the Board of Partners of E. Merck KG, Darmstadt, Germany, which to a large extent exercises the duties described in section 5.3.2 of the Code. Due to the relatively limited authority of the supervisory board of a KGaA in comparison with that of an AG, this therefore satisfies the requirements of the German Corporate Governance Code. In addition, as of March 20, 2020, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has not maintained a D&O liability insurance policy for the members of the Supervisory Board with a corresponding deductible, as the relevant recommendation was dropped in the current version of the Code dated December 16, 2019.
In view of future compliance with the current recommendations of the Government Commission of the German Corporate Governance Code, the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board declare the following: The company will comply with the recommendations of the Code in the version dated December 16, 2019.”
Darmstadt, February 26, 2021
For the Executive Board
signed Stefan Oschmann
For the Supervisory Board
signed Wolfgang Büchele