Julian Moxon/PARIS

Senior French Government and industry officials have given the clearest indication yet that France is moving to meet the conditions imposed by the UK and Germany to create an integrated European aerospace industry.

Contacts between Aerospatiale, British Aerospace and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa) have "intensified" during recent days, said Philippe Camus, president of Lagardère subsidiary Matra Hautes Technologies, which is due to merge with Aerospatiale in early 1999. "The calendar for industrial restructuring leading to a European aerospace and defence company is accelerating and is articulated around a hard core of three companies," he adds.

France has been heavily criticised for its reluctance to meet UK and German demands that Aerospatiale must be privatised before any merger with BAe and Dasa. Recently, however, ministers in Paris have been making it clear that, while the government intends to preserve its national interests, its stake in the state-owned company, which will be cut to around 35% after the Matra deal, will be reduced to "far less than 15%" through the mechanics of the merger with the UK and German industries.

French defence minister Alain Richard has contributed to the change of mood by promising that the handover of the Government's 46% share of Dassault Aviation to Aerospatiale will occur "in the next few weeks". He adds: "The first half of 1999 is when we expect to see the conditions fulfilled for the creation of the new European defence and aerospace enterprise".

French negotiators are determined to prevent a threatened merger between BAe and Dasa going ahead before bringing in Aerospatiale/Matra/Dassault.

Dasa president Manfred Bischoff said on 22 October, however, that a two-company merger "-could not be excluded" as a means of beginning the overall integration process while the three French companies finalise their own merger arrangements (Flight International, 28 October-3 November). "The conditions of a grand European alliance are dictated by the time factor," he added. Dasa has nevertheless welcomed the latest initiatives as "-proof that the French mean business".

A BAe source indicates that, while there has "-clearly been progress" there are still a "great many issues" to be faced, including how other European companies such as Alenia, CASA and Saab will be included.

The arrival of privately owned Lagardère in the talks appears to have provided a major impetus to the improved atmosphere between the three concerns, the company already having concluded separate strategic alliances between Matra and BAe in missiles and with Dasa in missiles and space - in which the French company already has a joint venture with GEC.

Source: Flight International