Vivendi tightens grip on Telecom Italia with board appointments

James Pearce
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French media giant Vivendi now controls two thirds of TIM's board as it steps nearer to taking control of the Italian operator

Vivendi has secured a two-thirds majority on the board of Telecom Italia, as it offers the European Commission concessions in a bid to ease EU antitrust concerns over its bid to take control of the Italian operator.

French media empire Vivendi is TIM’s biggest shareholder, with a 24% stake, and now controls the board, which has been reduced from 17 members to 15 as part of TIM’s most recent ordinary shareholders’ meeting.

The new board includes Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine, CFO Hervé Philippe and general counsel Frédéric Crépin. Five appointees nominated by Italian investment group association Assogestioni were also approved.

A statement from Vivendi said: "Vivendi welcomes the composition of Telecom Italia’s new Board of Directors. The new team, which brings together a wide variety of recognized skills, will be a valuable asset in the development of the Italian company’s strategy and in meeting its challenges in the months and years to come."

According to a Reuters reports, Vivendi has also proposed a number of undisclosed concessions to the European Commission in order to address concerns Brussels may have over its bid to take control of the Italian operator. Last month, Vivendi warned the EC it could be in control of Telecom Italia after its next board meeting.

The Commission originally set a deadline of 12 May to reach a decision, but this has been extended to 30 May. Concerns include the fact that Vivendi would be in control of not just Italy’s biggest operator, but also hold a significant interest in mass media company Mediaset.

Currently, Vivendi is locked in a dispute with Italian regulators over its stakebuilding in the country. Last month, the French company threatened legal action against Agcom after it ruled that building its stake in both TIM and Mediaset was in breach of antitrust rules.

Agcom has given Vivendi a year to cut its position in either Mediaset of TIM, and demanded it present a plan of action. Vivendi warned it could file legal action at both a regional and European level.

It remains to be seen if the French company will look to increase its stake in either operation. The filing to the EU suggests it may be looking at taking stronger control of Telecom Italia, while the board appointments also help tighten its grip over the Italian incumbent.

Italian officials are strongly opposed to allowing Vivendi to take control of both operations, fearing Vivendi president and largest shareholder Vincente Bollore’s ambitions to build a media empire in the country.

The laws Agcom has used in an attempt to block this - Gasparri Law – aims to protect media pluralism, and was introduced to curb the influence of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who is the largest shareholder in Mediaset. 

GTB contacted Vivendi about its ambitions but has yet to receive a response.