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Berlin and Paris revamp strategic EADS holdings

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Photo: DPA
10:56 CET+01:00
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), which owns plane maker Airbus, has unveiled a deal to restructure shareholdings meant to reduce the role of France and Germany but preserve their strategic interests.

The agreement will leave France and Germany each with 12-percent holdings and Spain with about 4.0 percent, a statement said, as the German automaker Daimler and French conglomerate Lagardere curtailed their own key stakes. The deal is designed to allow EADS to function as an aerospace giant independent of intrusive government influence, and could pave the way for future growth.

"This agreement aims at normalising and simplifying the governance of EADS while securing a shareholding structure that allows France, Germany and Spain to protect their legitimate strategic interests," an EADS statement said.

Chief executive Tom Enders told a telephone news conference that the deal represents "the most important change since the creation of EADS 12 years ago."

Enders emphasised that no shareholder will be able to "directly or indirectly appoint board members," to show how "government influence and capacity to interfere in the company will recede."

EADS added that it would buy back up to 15 percent of its free-floating capital in the first half of next year, subject to market conditions, a move that would underpin the share price as Daimler and Lagardere sold their stakes.

EADS shares jumped by 2.46 percent to €27.73 on the Paris stock exchange, which closed before the announcement was made with a gain of 0.28 percent overall.

The agreement allows for the percentage of freely floating EADS shares to jump from 49 percent at present to more than 70 percent, the group said. A statement issued by the French presidency emphasised that the deal would "guarantee the interests of the French, German and Spanish states within the group."

It would also give EADS "the freedom of movement it needs to pursue its development," the French statement said, while underscoring that the group's headquarters would stay in Toulouse, southern France.

EADS chief strategy and marketing officer Marwan Lahoud remarked that "moving the operational headquarters of the company is an operational decision" that "is decided by the board of directors."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the agreement meanwhile, saying in 1a statement that as a result, "the Franco-German partnership within EADS can advance in a balanced manner. The spirit that existed when the group was founded is thus respected."

EADS was created in July 2000 via a merger of the German defence company DASA, France's Aerospatiale-Matra and the Spanish group CASA.

According to the French presidency's statement, the new agreement "reinforces the protection of the nation's strategic defence interests via a specific agreement between EADS and the French state" that is expected to cover the group's ballistic missile activities.

Sources close to French Economy Minister Pierre Moscovici highlighted a clause that would bar any new EADS shareholder from acquiring a holding of more than 15 percent.

Paris would also have a priority to buy shares in the French aerospace company Dassault, in which EADS owns a stake of 46 percent, should they be put up for sale.

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Officials in Paris and Berlin have been exploring how to handle the exits of Daimler and Lagardere from EADS shareholding structure, a development that shakes up the original equity framework.

According to the EADS statement, the "present shareholder pact (is) expected to be replaced by a normal company governance scheme." EADS, which is registered in the Netherlands, builds satellites, rocket launchers, helicopters and defence systems in addition to its main unit, Airbus.

The group recently tried to seal a tie up with the British defence group BAE Systems, but the talks fell through, reportedly owing to German concern that it would be sidelined within the merged entity.

Britain was said to be concerned about undue state influence over what would have become the world's biggest aerospace and defence group.

AFP/mry

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