The future of the daily La Provence is played out this Monday

The future of the daily La Provence is played out this Monday

Will Xavier Niel oppose the takeover of the regional press group by the shipowner CMA CGM? This is the challenge of the board of directors, under high tension, this Monday.

Will Xavier Niel use his right of veto to oppose the resumption of Provence by the shipowner CMA CGM? This is the challenge of the board of directors on Monday, which could open a new front in the battle between these two behemoths of the economy. For months, the global maritime transport giant and NJJ, the holding company of Xavier Niel, the founder of Free, have been fighting in court for control of the regional press group and its two flagship titles, the daily newspapers Provence and Corsica Morning.

The company, which employs some 850 people, is 89% owned by GBT, the holding company of former businessman Bernard Tapie, the remaining 11% already belonging to NJJ, via its subsidiary Avenir Développement. But GBT has been in compulsory liquidation since 2020. The two liquidators are therefore involved in this battle, with one objective: to obtain the best sale price for this 89%, in order to be able to pay the creditors and therefore the State.

Following a second call for tenders, only that of the Marseille shipowner, the best bidder, was retained by the liquidators: CMA CGM had put 81 million euros on the table, against “around” 20 million for NJJ. This offer still has to pass the caudine forks of the board of directors: made up of five members, the latter must in fact unanimously approve the shipowner’s offer, by virtue of a so-called approval”, that is to say a right of veto. Among them, two representatives of Avenir Développement, whose takeover offer was rejected by the liquidator, and three of GBT: Stéphane Tapie, eldest son of the businessman who died in October, the CEO of La Provence Jean -Christophe Serfati and the general secretary of the group Virginie Layani.

Bankruptcy risk

To obtain approval, established in the 1986 law guaranteeing the independence of press companies, any new entrant to the capital must meet two conditions:the principle of non-concentration of the press” and “the social interest of the company“recalls CMA CGM to AFP, considering that its offer meets these two criteria. “Our offer, it maintains employment, it maintains activity and it has been validated by the six CSEs (Social and Economic Committee, Editor’s note) de La Provence, five unanimously and the sixth with ten votes out of 14“says the shipowner. “The social interest of La Provence today is to have a new shareholder in good health who has received a favorable opinion from the CSE“Slips another source close to the file to AFP.

In the event of rejection of the offer by the administrators of Avenir Développement, the shadow of the conflict of interest would come back to hover over the file. This is also what motivated the suspension of the right of approval of Xavier Niel, both minority shareholder of La Provence and candidate for its takeover, by the Commercial Court of Marseille in January. Although the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeal has since overturned this decision, it has also recognized that there were,indisputable way” a “conflict of interestfor Future Development.

Thus, a use, considered abusive by some, of his right of veto by Xavier Niel, could lead the judicial liquidators to take legal action, or even to withdraw the GBT shares from the sale. With a risk of bankruptcy of the company. For many employees, a blocking of the CMA CGM offer would in any case be synonymous with new delays in a sale already pending for months. “If it is not approved, we start again with an inextricable deadlock situation“fears Sophie Manelli, elected from the National Union of Journalists (SNJ). Gold, “we no longer have time to wait, we really need to have a buyer, investments, a course“, she adds.

Like the SNJ, the inter-union FO-CGT of Corse Matin and La Provence and the FOSNPEP union call the administrators to their responsibilities, asking them to approve the shipowner’s offer. CFDT, CGT, CFE-CGC and FO Livre would have preferred to be able to compare the two takeover offers. “It is wrong to claim that all employees and even a large majority would support the CMA CGM offer“says Marie-Cécile Bérenger, CFDT representative.

Nevertheless “if Xavier Niel really wants to acquire La Provence, he can do so, even by accepting the offer“, we note from a source close to the file: “He can both give approval and acquire the newspaper, using his right of preemption», which allows him to win the bet, on the condition however of aligning himself with the price of his competitor.