EU probes Chantiers de l’Atlantique takeover

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

10 January 2019

France and Germany have asked the European Commission to investigate the proposed acquisition of the French shipyard by Italian builder Fincantieri. The Commission has agreed the request saying it considers ‘that the transaction could harm competition at European and global level’.

In a press release yesterday, the EC said the proposed acquisition of Chantiers de l'Atlantique by Fincantieri does not reach the turnover thresholds set by the EU Merger Regulation for transactions notifiable to the European Commission because of their European dimension. However, the plan was notified for authorisation in France and Germany.

France submitted a referral request pursuant to Article 22(1) of the EU Merger Regulation. This provision allows Member States to request that the Commission examine a concentration that does not have an EU dimension but affects trade within the single market and threatens to significantly affect competition within the territory of the Member States making the request. Germany joined the referral request submitted by France.

On the basis of the information provided by France and Germany, and without prejudice to the outcome of its exhaustive investigation, the Commission considers that the transaction could significantly harm competition in shipbuilding, in particular in the global cruise ship market. The Commission also concluded that it was best placed to examine the potential cross-border effects of the transaction. Therefore, the acquisition of Chantiers de l'Atlantique by Fincantieri will be fully examined by the Commission.

More information on the transaction will be available on the Commission's competition website in the public case register under case number M.9162.

The acquisition by Fincantieri of the yard then run by financially troubled STX France, was initially opposed by the French government. However, in February last year an agreement was reached under which the Italian builder would acquire a majority stake in the yard in a €59.7 million deal.

In July the same year the deal was confirmed with the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire reportedly saying, “Italy and France share the same desire to wrap up the STX-Fincantieri merger, which will produce one of the biggest civilian shipbuilders in the world”. The comment was made after the minister met with Italy’s newly elected government.

However, the two countries have been at loggerheads since due to differences over migration among other things. Yesterday, Reuters reported that Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini had attacked France and Germany over their role in a European Union investigation into the planned merger. “What has happened is extremely serious, France and Germany behaved wrongly. It throws into doubt all accords,” Salvini said according to comments released by his spokeswoman.

On a more positive note, the week has seen the float out of the 181,000gt MSC Grandiosa at the shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, where the ship is being built. The vessel is the first of MSC’s Meraviglia-Plus ships, which feature larger tonnage and guest capacity than the first two Meraviglia ships – MSC Meraviglia and MSC Bellissima.