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FDI: Entry and ownership rule
In March 2011, the Italian government intensified efforts to prevent takeovers of large domestic companies by foreign enterprises. According to related and consistent press reports, among the Italian companies of current interest to foreign investors are the dairy giant Parmalat, the luxury goods producer Bulgari, the utilitiy Edison, the flight carrier Alitalia, the investment bank Mediobanca, as well as the insurance groups Fondiaria-SAI and Generali.
In its boldest moves, the Italian government has enacted a decree to postpone shareholders' meetings, and is also preparing a law to hamper foreign takeovers of strategic Italian enterprises.
On 23 March 2011, Italy's Council of Ministers passed a decree that gives listed companies of "strategic importance" the right to postpone its shareholder meetings up to 180 days after the finalisation of their annual financial statement. Prior to the change, this deadline had been 125 days. The Council of Ministers also declared that it was prepared to take further steps if they become necessary.
The decree was enacted one day after the French company Lactalis declared that it had doubled its holdings of Parmalat to 29 percent of the company's stock. Combined with the previous rhetoric and actions of Italian officials, the new decree may be an attempt of the Italian government to buy time in order to set up a counterweight to the French influence expected for Parmalat's upcoming shareholder assembly. On the sidelines of the Council meeting, Industry Minister Romani is quoted saying that meetings with Italian banks had aleady been conducted. Also, Italian sweets producer Ferrero as well as the dairy company Granaloro are reported to be involved.
The mentioned decree was preceded by the announcement of Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti of the preparations for a law protecting foreign takeovers of "strategic enterprises" after a meeting of the Council of Ministers on 18 March 2011.
Independent of the actions of the cabinet, the Italian tax agency announced on 22 March 2011 that it would probe the stock purchase of Lactalis as well as an earlier acquisition of a majority stake in Bulgari by the French luxury group LVMH.
Previous to these measures, the publicly documented attempts of the Italian government have largely rested on statements by various ministers including a call to domestic investors to behave as white knights. For instance, Minister Paolo Romani is cited 'Faced with the possibility that some major Italian companies could fall into French hands, the government is verifying the possibility of doing something '...' I hope that there is an effort on the part of national companies and banks that Parmalat remains Italian.'
Further, according to consistent press reports, the Italian government had summoned the French ambassador in March to inform him that the it will not tolerate a French takeover of Parmalat or Edison.
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