France has approved a new decree giving the government new powers to block foreign bidders to thwart US giant General Electric’s $16.9 billion (£10 billion) bid for French engineering group Alstom.
The state’s official ability to stop acquisitions will now extend to foreign attempts to buy assets in “strategic” energy, water, transport, telecoms and health sectors — and give the final say to the economy minister, currently socialist Arnaud Montebourg.
He has been outspoken about foreign businesses, in 2012 calling on steel giant ArcelorMittal to be kicked out of the country as “they don’t respect France”.
Officials reportedly described the beefed-up powers as a “nuclear weapon”. It contrasts with the lack of legal levers for the UK Government to pull as Pfizer pursues a £63 billion bid for AstraZeneca.
“With this reform, France will have a clear and efficient legal framework comparable with that in a number of other open economies within and outside Europe,” said Montebourg, who has repeatedly insisted any outcome for the Alstom industrial conglomerate must be in the national interest.
He has openly criticised the Alstom-GE deal and instead advocated a European tie-up with Germany’s Siemens.
The move came as official figures showed growth in France slowing to a standstill in the first three months of the year.