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Breakingviews: If Alcan can, can others follow?

Just as Vodafone's takeover of Mannesmann was touted as opening Germany up to foreign capital, so last year's hostile takeover of Pechiney has been interpreted as changing the rules for foreigners doing business in France.

A hostile bid for France's leading aluminium producer, not to mention a transatlantic one, would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Yet Canada's Alcan was able to carry off Pechiney with scarcely a squeak from the offices of the French prime minister and president.

One reason is perhaps the attitude of French finance minister Francis Mer. He is more pro-enterprise than many of his predecessors and – in some instances – less willing to subjugate business interests to political ones. As one-time head of Usinor, France's largest steel company, Mer knows that companies in global industries such as aluminium will only survive if they consolidate.

Another is that France, under pressure from increasingly stringent European Union rules and a weak economy, is being forced to rethink its protectionist instincts. As it does so, that should attract foreign investors.

There are certainly opportunities for strategic takeovers in France, where several global industrial and services businesses are operating in a harsh environment.

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