The French government on Friday opposed a “clear and final” veto to the merger proposed by Couche-Tard with the French giant Carrefour, forcing the Canadian group to withdraw its offer according to the Bloomberg agency.
The decision to throw in the towel was taken after a meeting between the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire and the founder of Couche-Tard Alain Bouchard, according to the agency, which quotes sources familiar with the matter.
In an attempt to reassure Bercy, Mr. Bouchard had yet promised several billion investments in Carrefour and had undertaken to maintain employment for two years and to list the group on the Paris Stock Exchange, in parallel with Canada, specifies the ‘agency.
Contacted by AFP, neither Couche-Tard nor Carrefour had confirmed the information on Friday evening.
“My position is a courteous no, but clear and definitive”: the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire quickly dampened the hopes of supporters of the “rapprochement” envisaged by Couche-Tard and Carrefour, explaining Friday on BFMTV and RMC that “we do not sell one of the major French distributors”.
This position is all the more dissuasive as the government has the power to block buyout operations in the agri-food industry, via regulations on the control of foreign investments. “I prefer not to have to employ it”, added Mr. Le Maire, specifying nevertheless that he would not hesitate “if necessary”.
Bruno Le Maire had the opportunity on Friday to explain his position to Mr. Bouchard, present in Paris, as well as to his Quebec counterpart Pierre Fitzgibbon by phone, Bercy told AFP.
– The previous “yogurt” –
Thursday evening, Pierre Fitzgibbon had explained to some journalists that his government had pleaded with the French authorities “that Couche-Tard could be a good owner”.
For his part Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, refused on Friday to comment on the operation on the grounds that “discussions were underway”, limiting himself to indicating that the role of his government was to support the companies of his country, ” including when they were looking to expand into the world. “
But on Friday night, after reports of the failed negotiations, a government source in Ottawa criticized Paris’ argument accusing Couche-Tard of threatening France’s food security.
“It can be argued that it is politically possible to decide not to allow the country’s main employer to pass into foreign hands,” admits this source, joined by AFP. “But we cannot accuse a leading Canadian company like Couche-Tard of endangering the food sovereignty of an entire country.”
The position of the French government had thrown a chill. “The Minister of the Economy is not afraid to describe the food distribution sector as strategic, and to be ridiculed for it, as his predecessor had been when yogurt (that is to say Danone ) had known a similar honor “, tackle the financial analysts of the firm AlphaValue, alluding to the refusal of the State to let Danone be bought by Pepsi in 2005.
Another financial analyst who requested anonymity notes that the food supply “does not depend on the nationality of the distributor, otherwise it would mean that Lidl or Aldi would not have held in terms of supply chain or food safety” on the past year, both brands being German.
The argument of sovereignty, “we can understand it with regard to the issues of defense, civil security, cybersecurity … There, it is less understandable”, also estimated Thursday with AFP Charles-Henri d’Auvigny, president of the Federation of Individual Investors and Clubs (F2IC).
– Massive investments –
If the sector is strategic, also observed Jacques Creyssel, general delegate of the Federation of commerce and distribution (of which Carrefour is a member), “decisions are needed to ensure that this sector, which is the largest employer in France, can consolidate and survive “.
According to the daily Les Echos, Couche-Tard had mentioned in the first discussions an investment of 3 billion euros over five years to promote the development of Carrefour, a figure confirmed to AFP by a connoisseur of the file.
Not enough to convince the government, therefore, nor the trade unions of the Carrefour group, which for their part considered that “the consequences, in particular social, of such an operation could be disastrous for the employees”, in the words of FO ( first union of the group).
In another press release tweeted Friday, the Snec / CFE-CGC (national union for the management of the Carrefour group, 4th in terms of representativeness) “wonders about the silence of the Carrefour group and the managerial methods of Couche-Tard”, and asks Carrefour to “communicate urgently to its employees”.
The government’s veto has in any case brought down the distributor’s share price in the red, to 16.61 euros at the close on Friday. Despite everything, it remains higher than before the shock announcement of these “very preliminary discussions” between the two distributors.
jl-ls-cda-mhc / mra / LyS / jl-et / ybl