Mar 23, 2011
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Italy to defend companies from foreign buyouts

Mar 23, 2011

Italy moved to defend strategic companies from foreign buyouts on Wednesday amid business anxiety after French cheese giant Lactalis became the main shareholder in Italian Parmalat.

The green light for a decree including measure to protect companies was taken during a cabinet meeting, the government said.

Luxury group LVMH has recently taken control of Italian jeweller Bulgari

It will allow Parmalat to postpone its annual general meeting scheduled for April 12-14 to allow a possible alliance of Italian companies to step in to prevent Lactalis from a "de facto" takeover.

"We hope this will allow Parmalat to stay in Italian hands," said Maurizio Fugatti, a lawmaker from the Northern League party, a junior coalition member in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government.

But Maurizio Zipponi, a member of the opposition Italy of Values party, said the government "has no industrial policy -- it has transformed Italy into a giant supermarket" for foreign companies.

Lactalis said on Tuesday it had reached a deal to increase its stake in Parmalat to 29 percent despite a government warning of measures to keep the dairy group in Italian hands.

The move triggered a vociferous response from the Italian government, already aggravated by an announcement last week that Lactalis had picked up 11.42 percent of Parmalat and planned to increase further its stake.

Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti hurriedly met with France's ambassador to Rome Jean-Marc de La Sabliere and announced Italy's intention of ensuring "reciprocity of European rules" regarding acquisition of companies.

In an attempt to block Lactalis the Italian government suggested an alliance of Italian companies could take control of Parmalat, including the bank Intesa-San Paolo and Ferrero, the maker of Nutella and Kinder chocolate eggs.

Nevertheless on Monday Lactalis announced it had raised its direct and indirect stake in Parmalat to 13.67 percent and by Tuesday it had increased the stake to 29 percent.

Parmalat had grown into a global dairy leader before collapsing in 2003 due to financial fraud by its founder Calisto Tanzi in a scandal that was dubbed "Europe's Enron".

The cheese goliath's decision to up its stake in Lactalis came in the wake of a recent buying binge by French companies in Italy.

Luxury group LVMH has taken control of jeweller Bulgari, EDF is in discussion with Italian power company Edison and insurer Groupama is expected to take a part of Premafin.

AirFrance-KLM has held a 25 percent stake in Alitalia since 2009.

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