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French plans for airport sale to China spark unease

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-12-05

The planned sale of a 49.99% government stake in the firm that manages Toulouse airport, where Airbus tests and assembles its planes, to a Chinese consortium has sparked concerns across France's political spectrum.

Paris announced on Thursday that it had decided to sell a €308 million ($381 million) stake in the firm that manages Toulouse airport to the Symbiose consortium that includes Chinese state-owned group Shandong Hi-Speed Group and Hong Kong-based investment company Friedmann Pacific Asset Management.

In an interview with local daily La Dépêche du Midi, Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron insisted that the airport was not being privatised, pointing out that the French state – which retains a 10.01 percent stake – along with local authorities would still be majority owners.

But officials on both sides of the political divide expressed their reservations on the planned sale, pointing out that French firms had also been in the running to purchase the stake.

"France is selling its shares to the Chinese state, and therefore to the Communist Party, as these firms are held by the Chinese state," said Jean-Louis Chauzy, head of the local economic, social and environmental council.

"The cat is among the pigeons," he said.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen also criticised the planned sale, as did Marie-Noelle Lienemann, a Socialist senator who tweeted that airports must remain public.

"Macron believes he is in Greece, where the government sold ports to the Chinese to reduce deficits, which continued to increase," she said.

Lienemann was referring to the 2008 agreement by Chinese shipping giant COSCO to a 35-year concession to expand container terminals at the Greek port of Piraeus as the country plunged into a devastating debt crisis.

The finance ministry insisted that the Chinese consortium had put forward "an ambitious development project" for the airport that aims for an increase in jobs linked to a rise in traffic.

Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France's southwest, the fourth-largest in France, is used by European aerospace giant Airbus – which is headquartered nearby – to test and assemble planes.

In its statement, the finance ministry said the consortium had promised to take into account the long-term interests of Airbus.

It also pointed out that it was not selling any of the infrastructure, such as buildings or runways, which remain the property of the state.

Toulouse airport aims to increase traffic from 7.5 million passengers in 2013 to 18 million by 2030.

The Chinese connection could enable the facility to become a new point of entry in France for sought-after Chinese tourists in the face of saturated Paris airports.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-12-05

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