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Italian government faces off with France over STX shipyard, tension high

by Carmine Fotina

Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan and Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda have said a straight no to the idea of a deal that does not foresee the majority and the control of the STX France shipyard. The Italian government considers French President Emmanuel Macron’s sudden about-turn to be unacceptable and, with both surprise and discontent, it has clarified that the Fincantieri-STX project can be considered closed if Paris lays claim to the majority. The impression is that we are a millimeter away from breaking point.

Mediation attempts have been tried in recent weeks but on the French side there is no will to converge. There is no collaborative spirit, which has fuelled the sensation among members of the government that in Paris they are playing above all a political game, separate from the logic that should be purely industrial.

The blitz to celebrate a deal on Libya is not linked directly and is considered above all a time coincidence, but the moment is not ideal to repair a deal that appears broken. “I recall that the shareholding majority of the shipyard was previously given to the Koreans,” Calenda said. The situation is also read as “a good test to understand if those who speak of Europeanism and liberal values then applies them.” How far can Macron go without worrying about seeming incoherent?

“The current French government has decided to cancel agreements already taken on the presence of Fincantieri in the group of STX. We gave our availability to listen to the needs of the new government, but there is no reason for why Fincantieri has to give up the majority and the control of the French firm,” said Calenda. The French decision seems difficult to understand, seeing as the South Korean company controls 66% of STX, while Fincantieri is being refused the control of 51%.

It remains to be understood how the nationalization of STX to block Fincantieri will merge with the common framework of effort to favor greater European integration. The ministers are insisting on two points: agreements already taken with President Francois Hollande are being cancelled retroactively and it was France itself which asked Fincantieri to show interest. Rules should be respected, not changed along the way.

Then there is the question of political dignity, which the government does not intend to to sell off to close the industrial deal at any price, which without shareholder control and control in the board could have more pitfalls than advantages, considering the high level of union conflict in the French shipyards. The à la carte protectionism of Macron, who speaks of Europe when it is necessary to protect oneself from unfaithful Chinese investments, does not convince.

“Italy has no intention of proceeding if the conditions at the start are no longer there,” said Calenda, the minister that reserved harsh words for French media company Vivendi during the most heated phase of its attempt to take over Italy's Mediaset. That operation was carried out in an “opaque” manner, leading to the idea of a general norm – borrowed in the name of reciprocity, from the French order against financial takeovers conducted like raids without any transparency. The norm is on stand-by but the principle that inspired it remains current: in big industrial and financial matches you need to play fair and without changing the cards on the table.