Exclusive: France defends Renault stake increase in letter to Ghosn - sources

Thu Apr 23, 2015 11:40am EDT
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By Gilles Guillaume and Laurence Frost

PARIS (Reuters) - French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has written to Renault (RENA.PA: Quote) boss Carlos Ghosn to defend the government's surprise stake increase in the carmaker and reject claims it endangers the Renault-Nissan alliance.

The April 21 letter was shared with Renault board members and interpreted by some as a warning against retaliation, two people with knowledge of its content said on Thursday.

"What we are seeing is a real but silent struggle," one source said. Government officials confirmed only that Macron had written to Ghosn, declining further comment.

France's stake in Renault and influence over Nissan, which is 43.4 percent-owned by the French carmaker, has long been a sensitive matter, with critics in the alliance and Japan fearing Paris might put its own interests above those of the businesses.

Nissan holds a reciprocal 15 percent of Renault that is deprived of voting rights, another sore point in Tokyo, because Nissan is deemed to be under its alliance partner's control.

France said on April 8 it had temporarily raised its Renault holding to 19.7 percent from 15 percent. Macron said the move would allow France to block Renault's attempt to opt out of new legislation granting double voting rights to longer-term investors, including the government.

Ghosn's "one share, one vote" proposal to maintain the status quo will be put to the April 30 shareholder meeting, with a two-thirds majority needed to pass the opt-out.

By blocking the resolution, the government would increase its voting weight from the previous 17 percent to about 30 percent -- close to a blocking minority -- even after paring back its capital stake to 15 percent as it has pledged to do.   Continued...

Carlos Ghosn, President and CEO of Nissan, unveils the new Nissan Maxima at the 2015 New York International Auto Show in New York City, April 2, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Thayer