M&A: Europe plays the takeover game
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M&A: Europe plays the takeover game

The battles rage for Telecom Italia, Société Générale and Gucci. Europeans have learnt aggressive US-style tactics. Optimists think corporate Europe has woken up after trailing the US for years. But these mega deals are driven by clan rivalry and gigantism, rather than efficiency.

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The conventional wisdom is that euroland corporate culture is going through what US capitalism experienced in the 1980s. The surge in mergers and acquisitions in early 1999 seems to show that efficiency, focus and shareholder value are European managers' new goals. Well, only up to a point. Marcus Walker looks beneath the surface of some of this year's biggest deals and finds two driving forces are old-fashioned clan rivalry and the pursuit of empire.

For a continent converting to shareholder value, Europe's current epic takeover struggles are a peculiar bunch. A merger of bloated French banks involves no sackings. A fight between two French magnates in a lax Dutch arena for an Italian fashion house largely ignores the firm's US shareholders. And an Italian telecoms giant with a proven reformer in charge is subject to a hostile leveraged buy-out. To escape, it tries to merge with a German state-controlled giant with which it has little overlap.

Probe beneath the surface of a merger in euroland, and you may well find that good old-fashioned European intrigues are being played out.

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