AUTOSTRADE AND ABERTIS SCRAP MERGER PLAN


Autostrade and Abertis yesterday scrapped their €25bn ($33bn) cross-border infrastructure mer-ger, bowing to what they said were insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of the deal by the Italian government.
Autostrade, which collects tolls on the majority of Italy’s motorways, first announced its deal with Spain’s Abertis in April. The two said they wanted to build a company better able to compete for international contracts. But the merger has been mired in legal disputes with regulators and the government of Romano Prodi.
The two companies said yesterday their boards had “jointly acknowledged the impossibility of carrying out the merger ... The decision taken … is based on their evaluation of the material obstacles preventing completion of the merger.”
The merger’s collapse marks a further business controversy for Mr Prodi’s government after an ugly row this year with Telecom Italia, also a privatised company. Marco Tronchetti Provera, TI’s chairman, resigned amid a dispute over the possible sale of TI’s mobile arm.
There was an immediate warning yesterday from within the government, a wide-ranging coalition of interests from the centre-left to communists.
Emma Bonino, the minister for European affairs, said the merger’s failure was a “big missed opportunity for our country” which could send “a discouraging signal to foreign investors”.
She said: “There are problems … but I think also there were other ways to resolve them.”
The Italian government is planning a review of the state concession from which Autostrade derives almost all of its revenues. The review could lead to a serious weakening of the company’s financial model and even to a cancellation of the concession. With that uncertainty, Abertis and Autostrade shareholders are unable accurately for now to put a value on the merged group.
The European Commission, which has been critical of Italy’s intervention, insisted yesterday that it would still pursue the government for possible violations of European Union law. Brussels argues that Rome had no right to interfere in a deal that was already cleared by the Commission’s antitrust directorate.
Antonio Di Pietro, Italy’s infrastructure minister and a vocal critic of Autostrade, said yesterday he remained open to talks with the companies, but that the review would continue.