Julian Moxon/Paris

As shareholders agreed plans to privatise Thomson- CSF, the group's new president, Denis Ranque, issued a strong message to the French and European aerospace rivals that the newly enlarged defence electronics giant intends to fight its corner as an independent business.

"Governments must leave industrial concerns to govern their enterprises. They are there to approve our activities, not drive them," he told shareholders at the annual general meeting on 22 June.

The meeting waved through details of the restructuring, under which Alcatel takes a 16.4% stake in the group, Dassault Industries a further 6% and Aerospatiale 4% in return for its satellites division. The Government share falls from 58.3% to 42.9%, although it also owns Aerospatiale.

Ranque also makes clear that the new French group intends to "-remain independent", despite speculation about further consolidation within Europe. "There will be no big bang", he says, adding there would be "no question" of Thomson-CSF losing control of its hard-won systems capabilities, even if a new European supergroup eventually emerges. Ranque also dismisses the idea that the company could accept a minority role in a missiles grouping, saying: "We're ready to be allies or partners with other European companies, but under no circumstances will we be either bypassed or torn apart."

The core activities of Thomson-CSF will remain based around radar, command and control and weapons systems, but it will also look to strengthen its activities in air traffic control and simulation.

Ranque also outlines the need to raise profits. Although the group ended 1997 with an "acceptable" operating margin of 5.7%, that still lags its main competitors.

He outlines aims to search for economies of scale and product synergies with the new Alcatel and Dassault Electronique units, pointing out that annual research budgets will leap to Fr24 billion ($4 billion). Last year, Thomson-CSF spent Fr8 billion.

Source: Flight International