Silvio Berlusconi said he would veto Air France-KLM's deal to buy Alitalia if he won April's election and offer an Italian counterbid. FRANCE 24's correspondent in Rome Alexis Masciarelli reports.
Italian conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday he would veto a planned sale of loss-making Alitalia to Air France-KLM if he wins election in mid-April polls, the ANSA news agency reported.
Berlusconi said that if he gains the premiership for a third time, he would respond to the offer from Air France-KLM with "a curt no."
"It is not a matter of saying no against France but against the conditions proposed," said the media tycoon, widely seen as the favourite to win the April 13-14 elections.
Alitalia, which has lurched from crisis to crisis for years, is now close to bankruptcy.
Meanwhile a senior Air France-KLM executive, speaking in France at around the same time, insisted that Alitalia had to take a decision now and not after the elections.
"We know what we can do and this (takeover) plan must be either accepted or refused, but now is the time, not in two months or in a month," said Air France-KLM's commercial director for France, Christian Boireau, in Biarritz.
On Wednesday, Berlusconi said he wanted to reopen attempts to find an Italian solution for Alitalia and urged the outgoing government to allow more time to assess "the reality of the situation" at the company.
The outgoing centre-left government headed by Romano Prodi had on Monday approved the purchase of the state's holding of 49.9 percent in Alitalia by Air France-KLM in a share swap valuing the Italian airline at 140 million euros (216 million dollars).
But against the backdrop of the electoral campaign, the terms have met with stiff resistance from trade union leaders who say the takeover would lead to 7,000 job losses from the work force of 11,000.
Air France-KLM chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta warned on Wednesday that there was little room for manoeuvre in the negotiations, and insisted that the takeover plan would involve only 2,100 job cuts.
The French-Dutch giant has said it would not go through with the deal without the agreement of the unions as well as that of the government that will emerge from next month's elections.
Boireau, speaking on behalf of Spinetta at a tourism convention in Biarritz, said Air France-KLM was asking Alitalia to "make the necessary changes" for its future.
"What we are offering Alitalia is a future which will be positive in the medium term. What we are asking of Alitalia is that it make the necessary changes so as to be able to guarantee this future," he said, adding: "That is the subject of discussion, debate."
Spinetta is prepared to spend a second week in Italy, Boireau noted.
Berlusconi on Wednesday claimed that the Italian banking giant Intesa Sanpaolo was willing to back a bid by an Italian consortium to rescue Alitalia.
But Sanpaolo group CEO Corrado Passera said the next day that nothing was "on the table."
Meanwhile Transport Minister Alessandro Bianchi said an Italian alternative already existed in the form of an offer made in December by Intesa Sanpaolo and the airline Air One that was rejected by the Prodi government in favour of Air France-KLM.
"Nothing prevents anyone today from asking them to make a binding offer," he added.
Date created : 2008-03-21