The European Commission expects to be called upon to rule on a takeover that would create the world’s biggest dairy company. Lactalis, a French company, announced on Tuesday (26 April) that it had launched a takeover bid worth about €3.4 billion for Parmalat of Italy, of which it already owns a 29% share.
Lactalis’s designs on the Italian company – and the Italian government’s response – have already come to the attention of the Commission over the past two months, notably after Lactalis’s purchase of the 29% stake in March.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government has become concerned about the number of Italian companies coming under French control, amid growing populist criticism in Italy. The government said that it was considering giving the food, energy, telecommunications, and defence sectors protection as “strategic” industries.
A Commission source said that, since March, officials had been watching events closely to ensure that EU merger regulation was not breached by any move by the Italian government. Commission officials have also been in touch with representatives from Lactalis.
A spokeswoman for the Commission said that officials had “taken note” of the latest development and that they expected the bid to be notified to the Commission in due course for assessment under EU competition rules.
Lactalis, which is the world’s largest producer of cheese, has offered €2.60 per share for the deal. The group said that if it merged with Parmalat it would have an annual turnover of about €14bn, making it the biggest producer of dairy products in the world. Other Italian food companies are said to be planning a rival offer for Parmalat.
The offer came shortly before Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, and Berlusconi met in Rome. At a press conference following the meeting, Berlusconi said that he did not consider the move to be a hostile takeover bid, but that he still hoped that Italian firms would show interest in Parmalat.
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