Germany slams French'interventionism' in Aventis takeover

30th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

FRANKFURT, April 30 (AFP) - German Economy and Labour Minister Wolfgang Clement lashed out at the French government on Friday for actively lobbying for a French solution in the three-month takeover battle for Franco-German life sciences group Aventis.

FRANKFURT, April 30 (AFP) - German Economy and Labour Minister Wolfgang Clement lashed out at the French government on Friday for actively lobbying for a French solution in the three-month takeover battle for Franco-German life sciences group Aventis.

In an interview published in the Financial Times, economy minister Clement slammed Paris for throwing its weight behind a takeover of Aventis by French pharmaceuticals group Sanofi-Synthelabo, even though Aventis had been negotiating with Swiss rival Novartis on a possible deal.

The French action constituted a "relapse into statist, interventionist policies," Clement raged.

The unusually harsh words are the first comment in Berlin on the French government's controversial involvement in the EUR 50.8 billion (USD 59.4 billion) deal.

Initially, Sanofi's bid for Aventis had been a hostile one and the Franco-German group had hoped to tie-up with Novartis to thwart it.

While Germany insisted governments should remain neutral in what it saw as a purely a corporate matter, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and his finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy openly and actively encouraged the Sanofi bid.

Aventis' management eventually agreed to a takeover earlier this week after Sanofi substantially increased the offer price.

At the same time, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder appeared less critical of Paris, saying that it was "normal" that the French economy minister had talked with the companies concerned.

He, too, favoured the creation of big players in Europe who could keep pace in the competition from US and Asian firms, Schroeder said.

Clement complained that Paris rebuffed Berlin's pleas for governments on both sides to remain neutral during the three-month takeover battle.

"I just hope the price will not be too high, either for the French state or for the employees," he said.

Clement said Germany should "draw lessons" from the episode.

The German government had backed the merger of German chemicals giant Hoechst with French drug maker Rhone-Poulence to form Aventis back in 1999.

But Clement hinted the government would not support such a move today."I did not create Aventis and I would never have advocated its creation," he said.

Clement also denied rumours he had struck a deal with Paris giving the German industrial giant Siemens free rein to acquire parts of Alstom, its troubled French rival.

"We have a joint interest with Britain, France, Italy and other industrial countries in a sensible, clear and reliable regulatory framework that does not hinder European industry but supports it on the global competitive stage," he said.

"That is our political role, not to decide who does what with whom."In a separate interview published in the business daily Handelsblatt, Schroeder was less critical of Paris in the Aventis affair.

"It's normal that the French economy minister spoke with the companies concerned," he said.

"Anyway, we know that in France, independent of which government is in power, economic policy is more statist that in other countries."

Schroeder declined to comment on the rumours that some sort of trade-off had taken place in the Siemens-Alstom and Aventis-Sanofi affairs.

"I don't participate in spreading rumours," he told the newspaper. But added: "Generally speaking, I think it sensible if big players are created in Europe that can keep compete in a globalised economy with US and Asian companies. To this extent, I'm in favour of Franco-German tie-ups, as long as they make economic sense. And it's the companies and their shareholders who must decide that."

© AFP

                                           Subject: French news

 

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