Germans in charge

Last week France and Germany abandoned the dual-nationality management structure at Eads, the owner of Airbus, in an attempt to turn the struggling aerospace and defence group into a “normal” global company.

The move will bring an end to the strife that has crippled the group for the past two years. In a volte-face French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Toulouse, agreed that German Tom Enders, Eads co-chief executive, should head Airbus and another German executive, Rudiger Grube, become sole chair at Eads. A third German, Hans Peter Ring, remains chief financial officer of Eads and Airbus. Louis Gallois, co-chief at Eads, becomes sole CEO. Enders will report to him.

Merkel believes this “is a balanced, fair management structure” but her aides and analysts see this as a German coup in forcing considerable concessions from the new French president to Berlin.

The French CFTC union at Airbus accused Sarkozy of allowing the Germans to take over virtually the entire shop but he said it was a “great day” for the company and the Franco-German axis.

Gallois plans to retire in 2009, but sources say he could step up to be chair, allowing Enders to be sole Eads chief and Fabrice Bregier, chief operating officer at Airbus, to be CEO. Sources say the French would regain control, analysts and unions doubt the arrangement will end the dual-nation structure and Merkel and Sarkozy have fallen out over proposals to raise capital to fund new planes.

The Germans and the French want to see a new shareholders’ structure that is balanced between French and German interests. The new Eads board will see them relinquish two seats each and four new independent directors elected at the next shareholders’ meeting. — Â

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