UPDATE 2-Berlin eyes EADS power balance as Daimler offers stake


* Daimler offers 7.5 pct EADS stake to government-source

* Chancellor, ministers to discuss offer next week-source

* Daimler, EADS decline to comment

* Daimler shares down 1.5 pct, EADS down 1.4 pct

(Adds quotes from government official, politician; background)

By Rene Wagner and Matthias Sobolewski

BERLIN, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Germany has pledged to preserve the Franco-German power balance in planemaker Airbus's parent EADS as Berlin mulls a politically sensitive move by carmaker Daimler to further cut its stake.

A German cabinet source familiar with the discussions said Daimler has offered to sell 7.5 percent of EADS worth 1.3 billion euros ($1.8 billion) at current prices to the German government.

"This is true, but no decision (by the government) has been made yet," the source said, confirming a report in the Financial Times.

Daimler and EADS declined to comment on the report.

The German firm is among the founding shareholders which created the European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co in 2000 from a merger of the French, German and Spanish industry interests in Airbus and other assets.

Daimler initially had 30 percent but sold 7.5 percent for 2 billion euros in 2006 and reduced its stake further the following year to a 15 percent economic interest while retaining a 22.5 percent voting stake to satisfy German government concerns.

Maintaining a fragile internal power balance between French and German interests in EADS has been a sensitive topic ever since the group was created, and Berlin sent a signal on Thursday that it would not let any uncertainty over Daimler's role scupper this.

EADS's defence portfolio includes France's nuclear weapons and German fighters and its Airbus subsidiary, the world's largest jetliner builder, guarantees about 55,000 civil jobs.

"The German government pursues a clear industrial policy of maintaining the Franco-German balance at EADS," the government's air and space coordinator, Peter Hintze, told Reuters.

"All of our measures and steps are governed by this over-arching target."

Research, development and production of aircraft should remain strongly anchored in Germany. "So there is less of a concern when there is a balance," he added.

The move increases uncertainty surrounding EADS, on top of management changes due in 2012 and media reports that other key shareholders want to reduce their exposure to the company, whose shares have risen 15 percent in price in a decade.

EADS shares fell 1.4 percent to 21.93 euros on Thursday. Daimler fell 1.5 percent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss Daimler's offer with Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting next Wednesday, the source said.

Merkel's FDP junior coalition partners are seen likely to oppose any attempt to invest public money in EADS. The FDP sees itself as an advocate for taxpayer interests and generally resists government involvement in industry.

"For the federal government to become directly involved with EADS would run completely contrary to the most basic beliefs of this coalition -- we would then have to start influencing their business strategy," a senior FDP coalition member said.

"This would also be the case if the involvement were to be indirect via the state-owned bank KfW."


In 2007 Daimler sold a 7.5 percent economic interest for 1.5 billion euros to a consortium of banks but kept the full 22.5 percent voting interest by creating a special company to hold the shares, in which the banking consortium has a one-third stake.

Founding French group Lagardere also sold 7.5 percent of EADS in 2006, leaving it with 7.5 percent currently while the French government owns a further 15 percent.

A shareholder pact between Daimler, Lagardere and the French government prevents the Paris government from influencing strategy or top appointments, at the insistence of Daimler.

On Wednesday, Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche signalled in an interview with Reuters Insider TV that the German carmaker could make a change to its holding in EADS but no decision had been made yet. [ID:nWEB9517]

German government sources told Reuters last week that Germany is seeking a new private investor for EADS in the light of Daimler's possible departure as it wants to maintain a balance of power between French and German interests in EADS. [ID:nLDE7182CV] (Additional reporting by Christaan Hetzner, Hendrik Sackmann, Tim Hepher; Writing by Maria Sheahan and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Greg Mahlich)



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