* Swedish unions call for AstraZeneca to stay independent
* Opposition leader also worried about potential Pfizer deal
* AstraZeneca employs around 5,900 people in Sweden
By Sven Nordenstam
SODERTALJE, Sweden, May 14 Unions representing
AstraZeneca workers in Sweden called on Wednesday for
the government to take a clear stand against Pfizer's
offer for the firm, echoing British concerns that a deal could
damage local scientific research.
AstraZeneca, formed in 1999 from the merger of Sweden's
Astra and Britain's Zeneca, has rejected a $106 billion offer
from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer, but a possible deal has raised
concerns in both countries about the effect on jobs and
competence in science and research.
"It is our belief that it is of over-riding public interest
in the current situation to preserve a strong and independent
AstraZeneca under British-Swedish leadership," the Swedish
unions said in an open letter to the government.
"It would be deeply unfortunate if this branch of Swedish
industrial culture ... were torn apart by short term interests
where tax-planning rather than new medicines are the main
AstraZeneca employs around 5,900 people in Sweden and about
6,700 in Britain, out of a global workforce of around 51,500.
Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg has already expressed
concern about a possible deal, labelling it tax-driven and
warning Britain that any promises from Pfizer to retain jobs
should be treated with a pinch of salt.
Borg has said he has been in contact with the British
government to express his scepticism about a deal.
Pfizer executives did not make commitments on the future for
Swedish jobs or research in a conference call with Enterprise
Minister Annie Loof last week, ministry spokeswoman Anna-Karin
Social Democratic party leader Stefan Lofven, whose party
and its allies are leading in opinion polls with general
elections only four months away, said he was worried about a
possible takeover of AstraZeneca.
"If a big American player does this for tax purposes, one
can ask oneself: what is the final result for us here in
Sweden?," said Lofven, who stands to become prime minister if
the centre-left opposition win the September vote.
The open letter did not make it clear what concrete steps
the unions wanted the government to take and also called on
shareholders to take a long-term view.
Concern about Sweden's life science industry has been
mounting since AstraZeneca announced in early 2012 that it was
shutting down research in Sodertalje, south of Stockholm, in a
move that cut more than a 1,000 jobs.
(Reporting by Sven Nordenstam; Writing by Simon Johnson;
Editing by Niklas Pollard and Mark Potter)