Berlusconi to discuss Alitalia takeover with Sarkozy

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The Italian prime minister said he will be happy to discuss the future of failing national flagship airline with the French president.

17 April 2008

ROME - Italy's prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday he would discuss the future of failing national flagship airline Alitalia with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the ANSA news agency reported.

"I will be happy to discuss ... a return to the initial plan of an Alitalia with Italian management on an equal footing with the two other companies with Sarkozy,” Berlusconi said two weeks after Air France-KLM withdrew a takeover offer for the company.

On Wednesday, Berlusconi mooted a return to the table with Air France-KLM but only if a deal could be reached that would accord "equal status among the three airlines".

He said he would be willing to discuss the fate of the airline with Sarkozy after he takes office early next month.

Sarkozy, congratulating Berlusconi on Tuesday, said his election provided an opportunity to "deepen the traditional bond of friendship and cooperation that unites our two countries."

Berlusconi, speaking to reporters as he headed to Sardinia for a private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, also said he planned to meet next week with the outgoing government of Romano Prodi "to examine the various possibilities that will be on the table".

The conservative media tycoon, whose centre-right coalition won general elections on Monday by a comfortable margin, made a campaign issue of the plight of Alitalia, which is rapidly heading towards bankruptcy.

As talks faltered between unions and the management of Air France-KLM ahead of the vote, Berlusconi claimed on several occasions that a viable Italian consortium was forming as an alternative but the companies he mentioned issued repeated denials.

While campaigning for a third stint as prime minister since 1994, he said he would reject a takeover by Air France-KLM out of hand.

The outgoing Prodi government, which had been struggling to sell the state's 49.9 percent stake in the loss-making company before the vote, pledged last week to take an "active role" in trying to convince Air France-KLM to reopen talks.

Alitalia, which is losing about EUR 1 million a day, had some EUR 170 million in the bank as of the end of March.

The hard-bargaining unions appeared ready to soften their positions last week.

[AFP / Expatica]

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