* Italian govt approves takeover limits
* Moves come as Parmalat battle heats up
* tensions rise between Rome and Paris
(Adds background, details)
By Giuseppe Fonte
ROME, March 23 (Reuters) - The Italian government approved measures on Wednesday that would restrict foreign takeovers of companies in the food, energy, defence and telecoms sectors, a government source said. The restrictions, first mooted by Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti last week, would be based on a principle of reciprocity, allowing target companies to use similar defences to those allowed in the country of the buyer, the source said.
The measures come as Italy’s biggest listed food maker Parmalat (PLT.MI) and No.2 power group Edison EDN.MI are engaged in battles for control with French shareholders. French luxury group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA (LVMH.PA) is also buying Italian jeweller Bulgari BULG.MI. [ID:nLDE72M0E9]
Italian newspapers said the measures would require foreign investors acquiring Italian companies to obtain government approval 60 days in advance. They would also give Italy’s bourse regulator Consob equivalent powers to France’s AMF to require clarification of potential hostile offers.
The fact that they would be based on similar measures in France would help get around potential objections from European authorities in Brussels, the paper said.
The scope for government action over takeovers was underlined late on Monday when Italy’s tax agency said it was checking whether the sales of stakes in Parmalat and jeweller Bulgari were in line with tax rules.
Ferrero, maker of chocolate spread Nutella, met Lactalis’ owners in Paris this week to consider a possible acquisition of the French group’s stake in Parmalat, but did not reach an agreement, a source close to the situation said.
The source said Ferrero was not considering a full takeover of Parmalat at the moment and would wait for the decision by the Italian government on the possible anti-takeover law before chosing its course of options.
“Ferrero does not see a full takeover as an option at the moment,” the source said. “The group does not intend to overpay for Parmalat.” (Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Antonella Ciancio; Editing by Alexander Smith)