Italy won’t block foreign takeovers: Economy Minister

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By Lisa Jucca and Luca Trogni

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy has no plans to oppose foreign takeovers of domestic companies, its economy minister said on Saturday, as suitors size up Telecom Italia and Finmeccanica's power engineering business.

The defense group is in talks to sell AnsaldoEnergia to South Korea's Doosan Heavy Industries <034020.KS> while Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris expressed interest in Italy's main telecoms operator ahead of a September 19 board meeting.

"We don't have any strategy to prevent such investments," Fabrizio Saccomanni told Reuters in a television interview, saying the government welcomed foreign investors.

"We don't necessarily have a role to play in single negotiations and I think it should be up to the companies involved to decide on the terms and conditions for foreign takeovers, or something like that."

Sawiris told Reuters earlier on Saturday he might not bid for Telecom Italia, expressing concern about a media report saying the government would favor a merger with Spanish operator Telefonica over any deal with him.

Confirming an earlier timetable, Saccomanni said Italy would present a broad privatization plan by October.

"Our intention is to look at a comprehensive program that includes the … (sale) of real estate assets but also of financial assets in state-controlled companies," he said.

"We should be able to be able to explain the details of this program in September or October in major financial centers in Europe, the U.S. and the Far East."

The Italian state has large stakes in some of Italy's biggest companies, including oil and gas giant Eni , Finmeccanica, utility group Enel , and others.


Saccomanni, who used to be No. 2 at the country's central bank, said a range of small Italian banks that have been hit by poor management and capital shortfalls may end up merging rather than having to tap the state for aid.

Contrary to other European countries, Italy has limited state intervention in the banking sector, although it recently offered 4.1 billion euros of special loans to prop up No.3 lender Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena .

More than a dozen small lenders, including mid-sized Banca Marche, are currently being run by the Bank of Italy after central bank inspections showed they had become vulnerable. Some analysts have said external aid will be needed to rescue them.

"We never rule out anything but based on the actual facts that we know, we think these banks can be restored to normal activity, which does not preclude the possibility that there should be merger and acquisitions by other banks," he said.

"The full range of supervisory instruments will be adopted. It is not a foregone conclusion that the only way out will be nationalization or public money infusion. That's absolutely out the question."

Saccomanni is due to meet later on Saturday with European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who has yet to decide whether to give a green light to the Monte Paschi state loans.

(Additional reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by John Stonestreet)