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French finance minister to meet Altice boss over Bouygues Telecom takeover bid

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Altice Media Group boss Patrick Drahi Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has summoned Franco-Israeli tycoon Patrice Drahi to meet him tomorrow to discuss the offer for mobile operator Bouygues Telecom by his company, Altice. Telecoms stocks soared on Monday after the story broke but unions and consumers' groups were worried about jobs and prices.


Stocks in Bouygues and Altice - whose mobile and cable operator is Numéricable-SFR - leaped 14 per cent and 13 per cent respectively when trading opened on Monday following Sunday's report of the offer.

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Shares in the other French operators, Iliad and Orange, also rose.

But Macron, who is worried about the prospect of the French market being reduced to just three operators, announced that he will meet Drahi on Tuesday afternoon.

The government fears that jobs may go and investment in infrastructure fall, as do unions at both Bouygues and SFR.

They are also suspicious that the offer comes as bids are about to be opened for new frequencies, one union official saying it could be a publicity stunt to push down the prices the operators would have to pay.

Consumers' group UFC-Que Choisir warned Monday that a reduction of the number of operators was likely to push up charges, citing recent experience in Austria, and pointed out that SFR arrived third in its study of quality of service in France.

Altice's offer is reported to be worth 10 billion euros, despite the fact that Bouygues has been losing money since Iliad's Free arrived on the market in 2012 and that analysts value it at 5.0-6.5 billion euros.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin has warned of the danger of Altice stocking up a major debt mountain.

Its consolidated debt was already 24.5 billion euros at the end of the first quarter of 2015 before it bought US operator Suddenlink.

Drahi is reported to have won loans from several banks for the Bouygues offer.

European Union economy chief, Pierre Moscovici, has predicted that the European Commission is likely to intervene and that competition watchdogs will be alerted.