Lagardère, the French media group that owns a 7.4 per cent stake in EADS, said it would “more than probably” sell the holding in 2013, sparking renewed hopes of a reduction in political meddling in the Franco-German aerospace manufacturer.
The comments from Arnaud Lagardère, the media company’s chief executive, indicate that he is planning to accelerate his departure from the aircraft and weapons maker that his father helped create.
Mr Lagardère is chairman of EADS, but helped scupper its recent attempt to merge with Britain’s BAE Systems after he raised concerns about the financial merits of the deal’s structure.
Lagardère’s stake in EADS is voted as a single block with the French state’s 15 per cent holding in the company, balancing the 22.5 per cent holding controlled indirectly by the German government.
Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Lagardère said: “It is clear now with the French government and everybody inside EADS that we will leave …more than probably next year.”
Tom Enders, EADS chief executive, is eager to reduce the government stakes in his company to end political meddling in its decision-making.
Some EADS executives were also frustrated during the BAE bid process at having a chairman who did not support the deal.
Mr Lagardère had initially said he would not sell out of EADS until the successful launch of its A350 wide-body passenger jet, which is not expected until 2014. However, he wants to raise cash to reduce debt, return money to shareholders and support investment for his struggling media business.
The German government said recently that it was bringing forward plans to acquire a direct 15 per cent stake in EADS from Daimler, the carmaker, and Dedalus, a consortium of banks.
At present Daimler owns 15 per cent of the company and the German banks 7.5 per cent, with the combined stake used to represent Germany’s interest in EADS.
Mr Enders believes the company is being held back from pursuing international expansion because of the heavy presence of the French and German states on its shareholder register.
Mr Lagardère won credit from minority EADS shareholders for his tough stance on the BAE deal.
“The beauty of the negotiation with BAE is that everything was on the table – Daimler selling to the German government or not,” Mr Lagardère said on Tuesday. “There has been extended communication on the pact.”
France and Germany are discussing the future of the shareholder pact, according to people close to the company.
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