Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau By Matthias Blamont and Tim Hepher PARIS | Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:11am EDT PARIS (Reuters) – Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) became the subject of a tug of war over its role in crisis-torn Italian partner Alitalia on Monday as Rome invited it to double its stake, while its own shareholders and unions looked ready to resist any new lifeline. The board of Air France-KLM, which owns 25 percent of Alitalia after helping it out of bankruptcy in 2008, was due to meet at 1600 GMT as Alitalia prepares to tap shareholders for cash for a second time this year, people close to the matter said. Alitalia is in the midst of a new crisis as it faces a cash shortfall of some 400 million euros ($540 million) and private Italian shareholders, who also took part in the 2008 rescue, become free to sell their shares when a lock-up expires in a month’s time. Air France-KLM will discuss whether to maintain its stake by participating in a capital increase, risk upsetting unions and the Dutch side of the company by raising its stake, or risk a Franco-Italian row by turning its back on its partner in the Skyteam alliance of airlines. Any extra investment could be a hard sell with the Franco-Dutch firm’s shareholders and workers, as it is in the midst of cutting costs and jobs in a bid to bring down its own debts. But the company will also be keen to protect the value of its existing investment and maintain access to Europe’s fourth-largest travel market. Italian transport minister Maurizio Lupi raised the stakes hours ahead of the meeting on Monday by saying Italy would not oppose an increase in Air France-KLM’s stake to 50 percent, effectively opening the door to foreign control. “I expect that Air France will strongly reaffirm that Alitalia is a strategic asset for Air France, and therefore that there will be a strengthening of Air France’s role,” he said on the sidelines of a conference in Milan. “We ask that Air France does not consider Alitalia and (Rome airport) Fiumicino as an appendix, but a strategic asset for the development of European air transport.” Lupi is a political ally of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who opposed proposals to have Air France-KLM take control of Alitalia in 2008, and instead asked a group of Italian investors to take over the loss-making carrier. POLITICALLY SENSITIVE Alitalia has moved aggressively to cut costs in recent years, but remains severely hampered by low-cost competition in its European markets, poor demand on its domestic routes due to Italy’s debt crisis and the rise of high-speed trains, as well as insufficient capital to invest in long-haul fleets. Earlier this year, Air France-KLM participated in its share of a 150 million euro shareholder loan to keep Alitalia afloat. Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac pledged in July not to put up more money without tough conditions. “In the past few weeks the management of Air France-KLM have been more open towards an increase in the stake rather than just taking part in a capital increase,” a union source briefed on the discussions said, asking not to be named. Air France-KLM declined comment. The decision is seen as politically sensitive after Air France, 19 percent owned by the French state, announced 2,800 further job cuts last week, prompting a call for new strikes.
1 To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the Conversation Guidelines and FAQs France beats Lithuania in Eurobasket 2013 title game AP 7:20 p.m. EDT September 22, 2013 France point guard Tony Parker throws a pass over the defense of Lithuania’s Mantas Kalnietis, right, during the Eurobasket 2013 title game. (Photo: Darko Bandic, AP) France beat Lithuania 80-66 Sunday in Eurobasket 2013 title game in Ljubljana, Slovenia Tony Parker won tournament MVP for leading France to first major international basketball title Nicolas Batum had team-high 17 points for France, while Linas Kleiza had 20 for Lithuania SHARE 51 CONNECT 19 TWEET 1 COMMENTEMAILMORE LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) Tony Parker finally has an international title to go with his three NBA rings although it was his France teammates who stole the spotlight in the European championship final. With Parker having a quiet game for once, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw provided the scoring as France won its first major basketball title by beating Lithuania 80-66 on Sunday. It was a victory that ended a decade of frustration for Parker and a talented French generation, which lost the final against Spain two years ago and took bronze in 2005. “It’s been an unbelievable journey chasing this title,” Parker said. “I would change nothing.” The San Antonio Spurs guard led France to the under-18 world championship title in 2000, and said he made a promise back then that he would give the senior team its first international success as well. Thirteen years later, it’s mission accomplished. “I went to everyone’s room last night in the hotel and I told them that there was no way we were going to lose this game,” Parker said. France broke open a close game by finishing the third quarter with a 14-0 run that kept Lithuania scoreless for four minutes. The French lead grew to 22 points with three minutes remaining in the third and Lithuania never came close to a comeback.