Battle in firing line on BAe-Marconi deal

JOHN BATTLE, Britain's aerospace minister, is set to come under fire from European counterparts today following the pounds 7bn BAe-Marconi merger, which froze out German and French suitors.

Mr Battle is in Madrid for a meeting of six European governments to discuss progress towards restructuring aerospace and defence. He will be pressed to reassure Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden that Britain is not backtracking on a single European aerospace and defence company.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "We would not want to pre-empt what the outcome of the meeting will be. But Mr Battle will be looking to forge a constructive dialogue."

Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, said the BAe-Marconi deal could open the way for a Franco-German alliance. He added that France would make proposals in this direction.

Thomson CSF, Marconi's spurned suitor, said the financial conditions sought by GEC had been totally incompatible with shareholder interests, and BAe would find it hard to fit into European restructuring.