Julian Moxon/paris

The French Government has promised to reveal its decision on the futures of Aerospatiale and Thomson-CSF before the end of September, and has said that the creation of an Airbus company should be a "priority".

The future of the two state-owned aerospace giants has been in limbo since the Socialist Government of Lionel Jospin took power in May. The previous administration had opted to sell its controlling 58%stake in Thomson-CSF to the Lagarderè group or Alcatel, but lost power before the June deadline. It had also promised to privatise Aerospatiale before a merger with Dassault Aviation, as president Serge Dassault demands.

The Jospin Government has now indicated that while it intends to reduce its stake in Thomson-CSF, it will retain a "decisive" holding of around 40% in the defence-electronics entity. It is also suggested that Aerospatiale, Alcatel, Dassault Electronique and defence-security firm Compagnie des Signaux could trade part of their activities in return for a shareholding in Thomson-CSF.

This idea has already been criticised as imposing a further delay on the restructuring of the industry, and leaving the resulting entity without any clearly defined leadership. French stock exchange analyst Credit Lyonnais Securities/ Cholet Dupont adds that a vertical integration with Aerospatiale could lead to the "carving up" of defence electronics group Thomson-CSF, effectively stripping it of the broad systems capabilities "-without which the group could not hope to sign major contracts".

Cholet Dupont accuses the Government of "lack of clarity". "It affirms that Thomson-CSF should be the focal point for the sector, but has not given it the means to fulfil this role," it says.

The Cabinet is reported to be considering handing Aerospatiale its 45.9% holding in Dassault, in a bid to break the present impasse over the merger. This would sidestep Dassault's objections to the move, leaving Aerospatiale to resolve the dispute.

The Government has also made it clear that it has shifted its thinking on the creation of an Airbus company, with a clear message that it intends to soften its opposition to proposals from Germany and the UK that the four partner companies should transfer the bulk of their Airbus assets to a new standalone operation. Sources indicate that the McDonnell Douglas takeover by Boeing has promoted the creation of a standalone Airbus company to top priority.

Source: Flight International