March 21, 2018 / 8:15 PM / in a month

French lawmakers seek scrutiny over Macron on foreign takeovers

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s government should subject foreign takeovers of French firms it has cleared to parliamentary scrutiny, a senior lawmaker said after a series of cross-border deals prompted criticism of President Emmanuel Macron’s industrial policy.

France's President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech to unveil his strategy to promote French language as part of the International Francophonie Day, before members of the French Academy and other guests, at the French Institute in Paris, France, March 20, 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

The loss of control over high-speed TGV train maker Alstom, first via the acquisition of its power business by General Electric and then a takeover of the remaining transport business by Germany’s Siemens last year caused ructions in French political and business circles.

At a time when some other western powers have been flirting with or adopting protectionist policies, lawmakers voted to set up a parliamentary inquiry into that decision and others, including the foreign takeovers in recent years of cement maker Lafarge and cable company Alcatel-Lucent.

Macron’s role in the transactions - from his time as his predecessor Francois Hollande’s economic adviser to his current position - was criticized by opposition lawmakers for breaking with a long tradition of protecting France’s corporate jewels.

The head of the inquiry, opposition MP Olivier Marleix of the conservative Republicans, told Reuters that weeks of question of officials involved in these cases had led to a consensus among MPs that more parliamentary scrutiny was needed.

France should follow the example of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a security panel that can block foreign takeovers, and make the equivalent French committee report to lawmakers.

“Without parliamentary control, these things are managed behind closed doors and in a half-baked kind of way,” Marleix said in an interview.

The government should inform the heads of parliament’s defense and finance committees about all foreign takeovers it has approved, explaining its decision and conditions given, Marleix said.

An annual report should also be published.

The lawmakers involved in the inquiry will introduce an amendment to an incoming bill sponsored by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, Marleix said. It remains to be seen whether it will be adopted.

Reporting by Michel Rose and Elizabeth Pineau, Editing by Leigh Thomas and John Stonestreet

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