France delays EADS succession decision -sources

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Europe’s EADS held off naming a successor to chief executive Louis Gallois and preparing other key changes after France asked for more time to finalize the politically sensitive handover, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

A key board meeting ended with no announcement or comments from the Franco-German-led company or its leading shareholders.

French media reports had said the board would move to enact a political agreement which provides for top posts to rotate between executives from France and Germany every five years, Reuters reports.

That would pave the way for a smooth handover in mid-2012 and avoid a repeat of past tensions at Europe’s leading aerospace group, which was founded in 2000 from a merger of aerospace assets from France, Germany and Spain.

Gallois is expected to hand over the CEO role to German-born Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders when his mandate expires in mid-2012, allowing Airbus no.2 Fabrice Bregier, a Frenchman, to step up as the head of the world’s largest commercial jetmaker and spearhead its competition with U.S. rival Boeing.

Arnaud Lagardere, head of French media conglomerate Lagardere, is expected to replace Bodo Uebber, the finance director of German carmaker Daimler, as chairman under a 2007 accord between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel aimed at clearing the air at EADS.

The top appointments are not seen as in doubt but the discussion comes at a delicate time as France and Germany, which exercise influence over EADS through a public-private shareholder pact, focus intensely on Europe’s debt crisis.
“The French government has asked for more information about the way forward,” a person familiar with the matter said.

An analyst of Franco-German industrial activities who is usually well briefed on political decisions affecting EADS said the French government had unexpectedly held up the process.
“The French government is saying that now is not the time,” the analyst said, asking not to be named.

There was no immediate comment from the French government.

EADS rejected media suggestions that the board had failed to make a decision. “The company never said it was going to take decisions on a specific date,” said an EADS spokesman. “Decisions will be communicated in due time and the board is working well along a normal process that is in place.”

ROOM FOR MANEUVER

The appointments coincide with sensitive changes in the EADS structure after the German government agreed to buy a third of carmaker Daimler’s stake to prevent the shares disappearing on the market and upsetting the ownership balance.

Daimler’s 22.5 percent voting stake mirrors stakes of 15 percent held by the French government and 7.5 percent held by Lagardere. The carmaker has offered to remain a steward for German interests by keeping voting rights for its shares.

The EADS shareholder pact is labyrinthine in its complexity but is seen as one of the most important charters of Franco-German efforts to achieve more integration alongside the euro. The direction of one of Europe’s most strategic companies and its 100,000 high-tech jobs is a sensitive political issue.

Merkel and Sarkozy were due to join other European leaders in Brussels late on Thursday for what France billed as a last chance summit to prevent a collapse of the single currency.

Although there is no connection between EADS and the crisis talks, the delayed management decision is described as a tactical opportunity for France to keep a little extra room for maneuver while waiting to see how events unfold in coming weeks.

The EADS board will resume discussion of the top nominations and less senior appointments at its next meeting in January. (