PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - Shareholders in EADS EAD.PA have reached the outlines of an agreement on its structure and are working out final legal technicalities before announcing a shake-up of the European aerospace group, two people familiar with the matter said.
By abolishing a Franco-German shareholder pact, public and private shareholders are on the verge of the biggest shake-up of control since the maker of Airbus passenger planes, Ariane rockets and Eurofighter combat jets was founded in 2000.
“Everything is basically done but there are a few complexities to work out, mostly legal stuff,” one person said, asking not to be named because the talks are confidential.
France and Germany have agreed to control 12 percent each of the voting rights, handing Berlin a direct stake in the Airbus parent company for the first time.
An economic ministry spokesman in Germany said discussions continued on Wednesday. EADS declined to comment on the talks, which are taking place at an undisclosed location in Paris.
“The deal is done. There is a firm political will to get it done on both sides. But it is not only a discussion between Paris and Berlin. That is why it is taking time,” said a second source, who expected an announcement this week.
Those technicalities included setting up a foundation in the Netherlands, where France is expected to park a 3 percent stake in a non-voting structure in order to keep voting parity with Germany but keep the economic value of its full 15 percent.
There were also discussions over the mechanisms for German auto group Daimler DAIGn.DE and French media conglomerate Lagardere LAGA.PA to sell shares they have held as proxies for their respective governments.
As Lagardere sells, the parties also need to decide who would take over from Arnaud Lagardere as EADS chairman.
“The deal is technically complex and it takes some time to go through all the different complexities. It has to be done in a clean way,” the source said.
The changes are designed to simplify EADS’ structure and give the financial markets a bigger slice of Europe’s largest aerospace firm. They come weeks after talks broke down to merge the group with UK defense contractor BAE Systems BAES.L.
While the shake-up increases direct state shareholdings, they will be held inside a smaller tent without proxy industrial shareholders. Government powers will also be curbed.
French, German and Spanish shareholdings will fall to less than 30 percent from 50.5 percent under the current power-sharing scheme, which will be wound up, sources have said.
Daimler currently owns 15 percent of EADS and votes for another 7.5 percent held by a consortium. In the shake-up, the German government is expected to buy 12 percent, leaving Daimler to sell the rest.
Lagardere owns 7.5 percent, which it is expected to sell.
Cash-rich EADS is expected to launch a share buyback to cushion the share price, which has risen this week on optimism that the reorganization would reduce the role of politics in one Europe’s most strategic firms and a rival to Boeing BA.N.
At 6 a.m. EDT, EADS shares were up 2.3 percent at 27.20 euros, still well below prices of over 30 euros before news of the BAE merger talks came out.
Reporting By Tim Hepher and Sophie Sassard; Editing by Jane Barrett and Louise Heavens