Veolia’s Hostile Bid for Suez Is Back on After Court Victory

A temporary suspension of Veolia Environnement SA’s hostile bid for Suez SA was lifted by a French court, removing one of several hurdles to the company’s takeover plans.

The Nanterre Commercial Court ruled on Tuesday that it was not competent to address Suez’s request to temporarily ban Veolia’s takeover offer, according to a statement. The decision didn’t address the fundamentals of Suez’s case, but nonetheless gives a boost to Veolia’s effort to create a global giant in waste and water services by absorbing its French rival.

Suez said in a statement that the court didn’t call into question its argument that Veolia was in breach of previous commitments to pursue a friendly takeover. The company is studying its legal options.

Veolia will proceed with its tender offer after “Suez’s delaying tactics once again failed,” according to a statement. The company’s Chief Executive Officer Antoine Frerot said he is willing to engage in a “constructive dialogue” with Suez’s board.

The two French utilities have been in a bitter stalemate since Veolia announced its intention to acquire Suez last year. A hostile takeover is a rare thing in France and the battle has tested the bounds of the country’s corporate culture, with unions describing Veolia’s move as a “declaration of war.”

The French Finance Ministry is unofficially mediating talks between the rivals, but with little progress so far as both sides stick to their positions, people with knowledge of the discussions said on Monday. Veolia remains adamant that it wants a full takeover of Suez, which insists it must exist independently after any deal, they said.

The ruling from the Tribunal de Commerce de Nanterre, a court outside Paris, removes one obstacle to Veolia’s plan. The validity of the takeover offer is still being studied by the French market watchdog AMF. The combination of the two companies, whose businesses overlap in many countries, would also be subject to a lengthy antitrust review.

Veolia already owns nearly 30% of Suez, after buying the stake from energy group Engie SA for 3.4 billion euros ($4.1 billion) in October.

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