Macron Seeks to Woo Foreign CEOs After Blocking Retail Deal

President Emmanuel Macron will host a summit on Monday to assure foreign executives that France is open for business, even after the government’s recent opposition to a $20 billion trans-Atlantic retail deal.

The summit will be mini version of Macron’s annual pre-Davos meetings, usually timed to catch global chief executives in Paris on their way to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps -- though both are being held online because of the coronavirus pandemic. A larger “Choose France” event is planned for later this year.

Macron’s message will be ‘we aren’t the only ones protecting our strategic assets,’ an official in his office said, asking not to be identified to comply with government rules. More than 50 leaders will participate, the official said, declining to provide the full list.

Investors are aware of the choice made by France and Europe not to be naive when controlling foreign investment, and that’s a choice all countries have made, in particular China and the U.S., the official said.

Perfect Timing

Only last week, politics torpedoed Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. friendly takeover bid of French grocery chain Carrefour SA, with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire explaining that ceding one of the country’s biggest supermarket owners to foreign ownership was impossible at a time when Covid-19 lockdowns underlined the strategic importance of food supply.

Though it wasn’t the first time a foreign acquirer was stymied by French concerns about economic sovereignty, it left many investors wondering whether striking significant deals is possible in the country before the 2022 presidential election.

Monday’s summit will be held behind closed doors, and Nestle, Ericsson, Snapchat, Inditex, Solvay, Accenture, and Ferrero are among companies that will attend, according to the Elysee official. Couche-Tard wasn’t invited.

The official said executives are expected have questions about the early rejection of the Couche-Tard proposal, while also stating that the government’s objection shouldn’t have come as surprise.

The rules are clear for all foreign investors, the official said.

France has a strong tradition in intervening in the economy and former investment banker Macron is no exception, despite pledges to cut red tape to attract more foreign investors. Last year, the French foreign minister helped LVMH’s owner Bernard Arnault, who happens to be a shareholder in Carrefour, extricate itself from a purchase of Tiffany, effectively buying it a better deal.

Attractiveness, for foreign investors, isn’t only about buying French companies, but also attracting talent or building industrial sites, the official said.

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