* French PM's office backs ex-Areva chief as EADS chairwoman
* Merkel aide denies deal with Hollande to nominate
* EADS proposes Lauvergeon, Trichet as French
* Chairmanship to test EADS independence under new structure
By Emmanuel Jarry and Tim Hepher
PARIS, Jan 27 French officials threw support
behind former nuclear boss Anne Lauvergeon to be the first
chairwoman of EADS on Sunday in a move likely to test
efforts to wrest the European aerospace group away from
An adviser to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said
the Socialist government strongly supported Lauvergeon, a former
aide of late President Francois Mitterrand and France's most
high-profile female business leader.
EADS is carrying out the biggest reorganization in its
12-year history after France and Germany agreed on a new
shareholder structure designed to secure their vital interests
while freeing the company from day-to-day interference.
Company watchers say the composition of the board will test
the spirit of the accords and determine whether Chief Executive
Tom Enders is free to run the company as independently as he
claims, or will be forced to rely on building alliances.
EADS shares are up 18 percent this year on hopes of a fresh
start after years of political in-fighting.
"The government is very supportive (of Lauvergeon)," the
French prime minister's adviser said.
"As shareholder, we think she has all the qualities required
to be the non-executive chairwoman of EADS."
EADS declined comment.
Under a new ownership structure agreed late last year,
France and Germany will own 12 percent each of EADS,
the parent company of Toulouse-based planemaker Airbus, but
their powers to veto nomination and strategy are curtailed.
Lauvergeon, ex-head of reactor maker Areva is one of two
personalities lined up to represent France's interests at the
Airbus parent group alongside ex-central banker Jean-Claude
Trichet, but the choice of chairman is meant to be independent.
Echoing a newspaper report, another French government source
said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had backed Lauvergeon in a
meeting with French President Francois Hollande last week.
However, Merkel's office denied any deal over the EADS post.
"The German government does not want to take a stance (on
this issue) for the time being," spokesman Steffen Seibert said
in Chile where Merkel was attending an EU-Latin American summit.
Although Lauvergeon enjoys the backing of some French
officials, the French finance ministry issued a statement
apparently designed to cool speculation over the appointments
and recalling a company-driven process agreed in December.
The December deal allows Enders to nominate a triumvirate
designed to protect French defence interests in EADS, of which
two would serve on the main board. The arrangement is mirrored
by similar arrangements for Germany, which has parity in EADS.
The finance ministry said Enders had proposed Lauvergeon and
Trichet, as well as a retired French general, to oversee a
holding company protecting technologies like nuclear weapons.
Of these three, Lauvergeon and Trichet would, if the list
were accepted, serve on the main board, it said in a statement.
Under the company restructuring, the government has the
power to accept or reject the list in its entirety but cannot
hand-pick individual members nor directly appoint the chairman.
Still, the appointment of a new board chairman is seen as a
delicate balancing act.
As long as EADS is run by the German-born Enders, the
chairman of the board is likely to be French.
An informal unpublished agreement also stipulates that four
board seats each should be reserved for French and German
citizens, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
But two of the four on each side must be independent.
It remained unclear how Lauvergeon's status as state
watchdog would affect her chances of becoming chairwoman, or how
easily she would fit alongside Enders as CEO. Both have strong
characters and a reputation for a hands-on management style.
People familiar with the accords say they do not exclude one
of the government-endorsed board members also becoming chairman
but warn this could create a potential political imbalance. This
could leave the door open to an independent to lead the board.
Potential French independent board members include
Alcatel-Lucent Chairman Philippe Camus, Saint-Gobain Honorary
Chairman Jean-Louis Beffa and ex-Thales CEO Denis Ranque.
A French official said the government did not favour Camus
for EADS, believing he had work to do turning round Alcatel.
Sources said German board members would include former
business association leader Hans-Peter Keitel, former EADS
chairman Manfredd Bischoff, former Deutsche Bank chief operating
officer Hermann-Josef Lamberti and Enders himself as CEO.
Underscoring EADS efforts to become a global company, four
remaining seats on the 12-person board are likely to include
three existing members - British mining executive Sir John
Parker, Indian-born steel boss Lakshmi Mittal and the Spanish
economist Josep Pique i Camps - and possibly a U.S. citizen.