The board of French utility conglomerate Véolia Environnement was meeting on Wednesday night to decide whether to launch an unsolicited bid for construction and toll-roads operator Vinci, as early as Thursday, Les Echos, the Financial Times? sister paper has learned.

Any bid by Véolia would be expected to meet stiff resistance from Vinci, which has been weakened by a boardroom row that lead to the abrupt departure of chairman Antoine Zacharias a week ago.

As rumours of a possible move spread on Wednesday, shares in Vinci soared 8.24 per cent, pushing its market capitalisation to €19.1bn. Shares in Véolia, meanwhile, fell 7.97 per cent to €38.13, leaving it valued at ?15.5bn.

Combining Véolia, which has operations in water supply, waste processing, energy supply and transport, with Vinci, France’s biggest construction group, would create an international utility conglomerate with €47bn of sales and 385,000 staff, of which 250,000 would be in France.

Henri Proglio, Véolia chief executive, has called in investment banks to advise on a possible bid. Among them were BNP Paribas, ING and ABN Amro.

Vinci?s management informed its directors of the proposed move yesterday afternoon.

Mr Proglio’s ambition is complicated by the fact that one of his directors, Serge Michel, sits on both boards, while Alain Minc, a director of Vinci, is an adviser to Mr Proglio.

Mr Proglio plans to combine slow-growth businesses that have a strong cash flow, with fast-growth activities in energy supply, construction and waste processing.

Because Véolia is already highly geared, Mr Proglio is unlikely to offer cash for Vinci, but is considering a share-swap deal.

Following the departure of Mr Zacharias from Vinci, the group is now chaired by Yves Thibault de Silguy, a director of Suez.

One executive close to the deal said Vinci would put up a fight. “Management is totally against this idea,” the executive said.

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