PARIS — France and Italy have set a deadline of Sept. 27, 2017, to reach an agreement for an Italian acquisition of the French commercial shipyard STX, the two nations announced in a joint statement after a ministerial meeting in Rome.
That agreement grants Fincantieri, an Italian state-controlled shipbuilder, exclusive rights to negotiate a takeover of STX France ahead of a bilateral summit meeting to be held at that date at Lyon, central France.
“The capital structure of STX France will be dealt with the objective of defining a mutually acceptable solution by the Franco-Italian bilateral meeting of Sept. 27,” the two nations said after an Aug. 1 meeting in Rome between French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire and his Italian counterpart Pier Carlo Padoan with Italian Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda.
Fincantieri is the “preferred option” for STX, with the prospective stake to reflect “its leading industrial role,” the two governments said.
France sees ownership of STX as a strategic issue, as the shipyard is the only French one large enough to build the hull of an aircraft carrier, a naval program that is expected to be launched in the next 10 years.
An agreement on STX would be part of a wider project for cooperation between the two countries in the maritime sector, dubbed “naval Airbus.”
“Bringing together the strengths of Fincantieri, STX France and Naval Group would create a global European leader aiming at being world’s largest exporter in civil and military markets, with a significant activity in systems and services,” the joint statement said.
Italy “deeply regretted” the French decision to exercise its preemption right to nationalize STX, but the two states were intent on overcoming their differences, the statement said.
Padoan said after the ministerial meeting: “There are still differences which were not resolved,” daily Le Monde reported. Le Maire said he was ready to go back to Rome in September ahead of the summit to resolve the differences.
The French decision last week to nationalize STX to block its acquisition severely rankled Italy, as Fincantieri had been the sole and successful bidder in a bankruptcy tender.
France and Italy could cooperate in the near term on building fleet tankers, as the French Navy is looking for three new vessels and Italy is modernizing its fleet, said Bernard Prézelin, author of the naval reference book “Combat Fleets,” regional paper Ouest France reported. Later, the two countries could work on mine hunters.
Cooperation between the two countries would cut research and development costs, but the authorities would have to be “highly rigorous” as the navies lack the same requirements, he added.
There would need to be “a revolution in thinking” to build in Europe a naval equivalent of what Airbus has delivered in the aeronautic industry, Prézelin said.
France is concerned over Fincantieri’s plan to hold more than 50 percent of STX, as there are fears of mass layoffs of French workers in market downturns and potential technology transfer to the Italian company’s Chinese partner.
Italy, meanwhile, insists on owning more than 50 percent, as the previous Korean STX parent company held 66.6 percent of the French unit.
The Korean group had been a “sleeping partner,” while Fincantieri is the strongest competitor to the STX shipyard at Saint-Nazaire, western France, said Bruno Retailleau, chairman of the regional council.