The Future of Atos: Nationalization Proposal and the Impact on French Industry

2023-10-25 12:07:15

The future of this IT company, one of the flagships of French industry, is in limbo. MPs have proposed temporarily nationalizing it.

Little known to the general public, Atos is nevertheless a key player in the very strategic sector of internet security. This is the IT group in charge of cybersecurity for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and which is also essential for the French nuclear industry. But Atos has been experiencing turmoil in recent years. The restructuring of this French jewel attracts foreign investors and worries the deputies, who intend to preserve it. Franceinfo returns to this economic saga which is taking a political turn.

Sensitive activities in the military and nuclear sectors

Since its creation in 1997, the company has positioned itself as the global specialist in the digital transformation of businesses. It brings together some 107,000 employees spread across 69 countries, for a turnover estimated at 11 billion euros. Since 2001, Atos has been the global IT partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Above all, the group has several activities in sectors as specialized as they are sensitive such as the army, nuclear power and computer security.

It ensures, among other things, the management of secure army and nuclear power plant management systems, produces supercomputers and also develops computer management software for public and parapublic services such as Linky or SNCF. For 10 years, from 2009 to 2019, the group was led by Thierry Breton, until he became European Commissioner for the Internal Market. Under the “Breton era”, the sector giant saw its growth increase, with strategic but costly acquisitions.

A decried development

The company begins to go through a bad patch after the departure of Thierry Breton. Because according to analysts, the CEO’s strategic choices turn out to be ill-advised. Atos therefore recorded less good economic results and experienced a waltz of leaders who destabilized it. In great difficulty, Atos decided in June 2022 to split its activities into two branches: IT consulting on the one hand, and cybersecurity on the other. A decision strongly criticized internally, especially since the “Tech Foundations” branch, which brings together IT consulting activities, interests Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky.

This interest of the billionaire, who is increasing his investments in France, is criticized by certain shareholders as well as political leaders. A discontent which costs the chairman of the board of directors, Bertrand Meunier, his position, who resigned on October 14. The ambitious Kretinsky’s takeover project is maintained but postponed to “the beginning of the second quarter of 2024”.

A political takeover

The protest surrounding this proposed takeover of a branch of Atos is also taking a political turn. Last August, 82 LR parliamentarians call, in a column published by the Figaro, to maintain the business “under the French fold“and to stop “sell our most strategic flagships to foreign powers”. The signatories emphasize in particular that Atos supercomputers are essential for nuclear test simulations, and therefore for French nuclear deterrence.

“Atos remains key to our current strategic autonomy, through computing capabilities, and tomorrow, with the challenges linked to quantum”

LR parliamentarians signatories of a platform

in Le Figaro

At the end of September, the Prime Minister tried to reassure LR parliamentarians. “Even if the operation were completed, it would have no impact in terms of control or blocking rights over sensitive activities”, replies Élisabeth Borne. But this is not enough to quell the concern of part of the French opposition.

Friday October 20, the leader of the Les Républicains deputies Olivier Marleix tabled an amendment in the 2024 finance bill, under debate in the National Assembly, to “a temporary total nationalization of Atos”. “This choice is motivated by the threats of acquisition from Daniel Kretinsky and the major changes planned for the group”explains the deputy.

A nationalization project and action at its lowest

For his part, the socialist deputy Philippe Brun announces on X (ex-Twitter) that he will propose this Wednesday to the Finance Committee of the National Assembly “the temporary nationalization of the ‘sovereign’ activities of the Atos group, currently being dismantled”. “We cannot let a foreign company take control of these activities that are absolutely essential for our national independence”justifies the PS deputy.

For its part, the Ministry of the Economy indicates that‘”there is no nationalization project” of Atos. But after the tabling of these two amendments, the action of the French IT group reached its historic low on Monday on the Paris Stock Exchange. The subject is debated on Wednesday October 25 in the National Assembly, the future of Atos has therefore not yet been decided.

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