Berlusconi rules out foreign takeover for Alitalia


ROME — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reiterated Sunday his opposition to foreign investors taking a majority stake in national airline Alitalia, the ANSA news agency reported.

Press reports say Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are preparing takeover bids for the troubled airline. Berlusconi promised during his election campaign to keep Alitalia in Italian hands, opposing in April a takeover bid from the Franco-Dutch company.

“There is a clause (in the contracts) which forbids shareholders from selling a majority stake for at least five years,” Berlusconi was quoted as saying by ANSA, referring to Italian consortium CAI’s offer of one billion euros (1.45 billion dollars).

Two thirds of shareholders have to approve any sale of a majority stake, the Italian premier added.

“I can therefore rule out foreign investors or companies taking a majority stake in our national (airline) company,” he said.

Alitalia, 49.9 percent state owned, is losing about three million euros a day and has debt of about 1.2 billion euros.

Under the rescue plan, CAI would take over Alitalia’s passenger activities and merge them with Italy’s number two airline Air One.

Unions initially opposed the rescue plan, but all nine representing Alitalia staff have now backed CAI’s bid. The Italian investors have now started to make inquiries with potential foreign partners Air France-KLM and Lufthansa.

Berlusconi declined to comment on his preferred partner for Alitalia, saying the decision remained with CAI.

The La Repubblica newspaper argued Saturday that the airline “does not have the critical mass in financial terms or the operational capacity to hold out against it global competitors.”

The near-bankrupt airline has been surviving on a loan of 300 million euros made in late April from public funds after the takeover talks with Air France-KLM collapsed. The European Commission is investigating where the loan met EU rules on state aid after expressing grave doubts.

Air France-KLM is ready to take a minority stake of between 10 and 20 percent. German carrier Lufthansa wants as much as a 40 percent stake, according to Italian press reports.