EADS vote signals resurrection as "normal company"

Tue Mar 26, 2013 1:35pm EDT
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By Tim Hepher and Cyril Altmeyer

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus parent EADS EAD.PA faces the most far-reaching changes in its history as shareholders seek to balance French and German state shareholdings with tough new safeguards against political meddling.

Europe's largest aerospace group has been haunted by political pressures since its inception as an industrial counterpart to the euro currency in 2000, but is re-inventing itself to try to secure greater independence.

"EADS will now become a normal company," Chief Executive Tom Enders told Reuters on the eve of a shareholder meeting scheduled for Wednesday in Amsterdam.

The meeting will scrap a shareholder pact that held the balance of power between French and German interests and will pave the way for the exit of industrial partners, French media firm Lagardere (LAGA.PA: Quote) and German carmaker Daimler (DAIGn.DE: Quote).

It will also give EADS its first mainly independent board and authorize a buyback of up to 15 percent of its stock, plans for which have pushed EADS shares up 40 percent this year.

The Easter vote follows a deal between France and Germany after Paris and Berlin failed to agree on a merger between EADS and Britain's BAE Systems (BAES.L: Quote) last year.

The changes also mark a turning point in industrial policy after Germany ditched opposition to direct state shareholdings, driven by its private partner Daimler's desire to concentrate on cars, and France surrendered key powers over EADS strategy.

However, the euro zone's two leading economies will remain influential as major defense customers and will have powers resembling a UK-style golden share to block hostile takeovers.   Continued...

Logo of EADS is seen at the European aerospace and defence group EADS headquarters in Les Mureaux near Paris January 12, 2011. REUTERS/Charles Platiau