French gov't warns off 10bn-euro telecoms merger

AFP , Sunday 21 Jun 2015

The French government on Sunday warned Franco-Israeli media magnate Patrick Drahi against a 10-billion-euro takeover of rival mobile phone operator Bouygues Telecom.

Le Journal du Dimanche weekly reported that Drahi, who already owns second-biggest telecoms operator Numericable-SFR, had offered over 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion) for Bouygues Telecom, the number three in the sector.

"The negotiations are continuing this weekend with Martin Bouygues, the group's CEO, demanding an improved offer (by Drahi), to 11 billion euros," the paper reported, citing unnamed sources.

But the government is not keen to see less competition in the mobile phone sector, where a busy playing field has kept prices low for consumers.

"Now is not the time for opportunistic tie-ups which may be of interest to some people but which are not in the public interest," Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron told AFP.

"I say and I repeat that consolidation is currently undesirable for the sector," he said.

"Jobs, investment and better customer service are the priorities," Macron said, adding that recent cases in Europe had shown telecoms mergers to have a "negative" impact.

Drahi, whose media interests include a majority stake in the French daily Liberation and L'Express news weekly, as well as owning the Israeli TV station i24 News, has been on a telecoms buying spree over the past year.

In March 2014, Altice won a bidding war with Bouygues for SFR, France's second largest mobile operator, which it then merged with its Numericable cable operation.

Altice also snapped up the Portugese assets of Brazil's Oi-Portugal Telecom.

In May this year, Drahi made a foray into the US market by buying 70 percent of Suddenlink Communications, the seventh-largest US cable company.

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