The Italian Almanac

naval weapons

Italian News - June 8

Italian military giant Finmeccanica could be weeks away from grabbing a greater slice of Britain's defence market via the acquisition of up to 30% of French-based defence and electronics group Thales. Employing about 10,000 people here and with the contract for two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers and the Army's Watchkeeper artillery spotting system, Thales has been looking for a new partner for some time.

The deal should be sanctioned by the French and Italian governments, which currently have about 30% stakes in Thales and Finmeccanica respectively, in the next few weeks once the reshuffled French government has bedded in. Finmeccanica confirmed it has been in talks for some weeks, but has yet to hear the final French government position.

The proposed new structure of Thales has been sent to the French finance ministry, and it is to be discussed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Jacques Chirac. Berlusconi is also expected to consult Tony Blair because of the increased power it will give the Italians in the UK defence market. The prospective deal would effectively make Finmeccanica Britain's second-biggest defence contractor after BAE Systems.