Italy to take stakes in strategic companies

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The Italian government said Thursday it had agreed that the state could take stakes in strategically important companies to protect them from foreign takeovers.

The green light came after last week's news that French cheese giant Lactalis had become the main shareholder in Parmalat, sparking fears of more to come in business circles and a vociferous response from the Italian government.

"The Cabinet authorised the Finance Ministry to put in place and activate financial and capitalisation tools, analogous to those in other European countries," the government said in a statement.

"These tools are aimed at taking shares in companies of national interest."

Italy moved to defend companies from foreign buyouts last Wednesday by approving a decree and allowing Parmalat time to come up with a possible alliance of Italian companies to prevent a "de facto" takeover by Lactalis.

The alliance could include the bank Intesa-San Paolo and Ferrero, the maker of Nutella and Kinder chocolate eggs.

Lactalis' decision to up its stake in Parmalat came in the wake of a buying binge by French companies in Italy.

Luxury group LVMH has taken control of jeweller Bulgari, EDF is in discussions 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.

© 2011 AFP

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