French Finance Chief Says Killing Carrefour Bid Is Good Politics

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that shooting down a foreign takeover bid for supermarket chain Carrefour SA last week was all about the politics.

In an interview on RTL radio Monday, Le Maire mounted a staunch defense of his decision to kill talks between Carrefour and Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., citing the need to defend French sovereignty and a strategic asset.

“Food security is non-negotiable,” he said, without explaining clearly how the deal might have threatened French food supplies. “The political sense of this economic decision is that I believe in food sovereignty. I want to guarantee that even in the case of a pandemic” supply chains won’t be at risk.

Le Maire seemed happy with the outcome: He said the partnership arrangement that the companies are now looking at is a preferable option.

“‘There was haste from the Carrefour side, but certainly not from the French side,” he added.

Lockdowns have underlined the strategic importance of maintaining basic supplies at times of crisis and the idea of one of France’s biggest supermarket chains falling in to foreign ownership proved too much to stomach just with a presidential election on the horizon next year.

The decision highlighted just how sensitive President Emmanuel Macron’s government is to the potential for attacks from nationalist leader Marine Le Pen or the leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Suez and Veolia

Still, Le Maire hammered home that France “remains totally open to foreign investments,” citing tax cuts and alluding to a study that ranked France as Europe’s top destination for new investment projects in 2019.

He was also asked about another potential foreign takeover -- U.S.-based private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners’ proposed offer for the utility Suez SA along with France’s Ardian SAS.

Le Maire said it’s up to the company to decide its future, but he’d like to see Suez reach a “friendly” resolution with Veolia Environnement SA to their long-running takeover battle.

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