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When two's a crowd can three succeed?

French banking has arrived at a turning point. In the past the government would have stepped in to resolve the takeover battle between Société Générale, Paribas and Banque Nationale de Paris. But this time it looks likely that shareholders will determine who triumphs. Rebecca Bream reports.

M&A: Europe plays the takeover game

M&A advisers flock to Europe

KKR targets Europe

Is French banking embracing Anglo-Saxon business style and finally bowing to shareholder value? The escalation of events since February would certainly suggest so. The bitter takeover battle currently being fought by Société Générale (SG), Paribas and their hostile suitor Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) looks set to be decided for the first time by investors rather than the government.

The situation may get more complicated if other suitors step in. Governor of the Bank of France Jean-Claude Trichet might want to intervene in the national interest if a foreign bank decided to enter the fray. But at a time when he wants to prove that he would make a forward-looking European Central Bank governor, he would have to come up with a convincing reason to reject a German, Dutch or Italian bid after accepting the unsolicited one from BNP.

A breakthrough in the consolidation of the fragmented French banking sector had been brewing throughout last year. In the words of one prominent French banker: "Everybody had talked to everybody."

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