The deal between Lagardère and Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) to form a major space and missiles alliance is "irreversible" and will stand regardless of the outcome of the bidding for Thomson-CSF, says Noel Forgeard, Lagardère director-general.
Announcement of the Dasa deal on 7 May was clearly timed to strengthen the Lagardère bid for Thomson-CSF, coming just the day before the final offer from the rival Alcatel-Dassault Industries grouping.
Forgeard says, however, that the agreement with Dasa is "absolutely not contingent on Thomson-CSF". He adds that it is based on a broader "industrial logic".
Uncertainties still surround the fate of the French privatisation programme, depending on the outcome of parliamentary elections now taking place in France. There are concerns that a socialist victory in the polls could end hopes of a sale for either Thomson-CSF or Aerospatiale, which is due to be merged with Dassault Aviation.
Forgeard adds, however, that in the event of a socialist victory, he will "-try to convince the new government" that Thomson-CSF must be privatised. "It would be a paradox if it became the last publicly owned ghetto of the Western world," he says.
Even if the privatisation is stopped, the alliance of Dasa and Lagardère's Matra subsidiary will still go ahead and "-could be finalised by the end of the year", insists Forgeard. The annual sales of the combined group would reach Fr33 billion ($5.8 billion), up from Fr26.6 billion.
Moves have also begun to sooth relations with Aerospatiale, which has complained bitterly about the Matra-Dasaaccord. This effectively replaced its own stalled space/missiles alliance with the German manufacturer. Aerospatiale is also linked with the rival Alcatel/Dassault bid, although barred by the French Government from direct involvement.
Forgeard now says that he is "-ready to engage in a constructive dialogue to study ways of co-operating" with Aerospatiale. He reveals that Lagardère and Dasa have each offered to take a 10% stake in Aerospatiale if they are part of the winning bid, responding to the Government's demand that the state-owned group should be included in any bid.
Under the existing deal, Dasa would pool its space business with the Matra-Marconi Space partnership. Although Matra-Marconi would hold 60-70% of the new grouping, voting rights will be divided evenly between the German and French-UK partners.
On the missiles alliance, the Matra British Aerospace Dynamics joint venture would take just 30% of Dasasubsidiary LFK, with the potential for this to be increased to 49% within two and a half years.
A "nationality clause" now prevents the disposal of more than 50% of LFK to a foreign holding, but Matra BAe would have first refusal if a sale of the subsidiary were to become possible.
Forgeard counters criticisms that the new grouping puts the restructuring of the European industry before that of France, saying that the deal "-preserves the interests of France". He points out that the space agreement keeps France holding the "majority economic rights" of what would become the largest commercial space enterprise in the world outside North America.
Source: Flight International