«WHEN is a cross-border takeover in Europe a good thing? For the French government, the answer seems to be clear. It is to be applauded when the company doing the buying hails from France, but treated with deep suspicion when the target is French. Spooked by rumours that Danone, a food company that owns much-loved French brands, might be taken over by America’s PepsiCo, the government has announced its intention to come up with a list of strategic French industries that will be protected from foreign takeover. “Our policy is not to oppose by principle every acquisition of a French company,” says François Loos, minister for industry. But if yoghurt is a strategic industry, Mr Loos’s promised list may be quite long.
While French politicians contemplate an industrial Maginot line, French businessmen are snapping up companies elsewhere in Europe. According to Dealogic, a research firm, French firms spent almost $60 billion on foreign takeovers in Europe alone in the first seven months of this year (see table). Pernod Ricard, a drinks company, bought its British rival Allied Domecq; Suez, a utilities company, bought Electrabel of Belgium; France Telecom took over Spain’s Amena, a mobile-phone operator. Just this week, another French firm, Saint-Gobain, a building-materials company, had a £3.6 billion ($6.5 billion) hostile bid for Britain’s BPB rejected.»