ROME — Italy has blocked a bid by French firm Safran to buy a key Italian defense and aerospace company, with sources citing the state of conflict around the world as a reason to avoid approving such sales.
Italy halted the purchase of Microtecnica, which makes components for the Eurofighter jet, by using its so-called Golden Power legislation, which grants it the right to block purchases of strategic firms by overseas buyers.
Currently owned by U.S. firm Collins Aerospace, Microtecnica is part of Collins’ flight controls business, which Safran was due to buy in a $1.8 billion deal announced in July. RTX, formerly known as Raytheon Technologies, owns Collins.
Italian government sources told Defense News the planned sale comes amid conflicts and political tension across the globe, and there was concern over the security of the supply of crucial components to Italy’s armed forces.
Microtecnica’s sale to Safran could lead to such a risk, added the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the topic with the press.
Reuters reported Germany had shared with Italy its concerns about the supply of components to the Eurofighter, the aircraft both countries build and operate.
Introduced in 2012, Italy’s Golden Power legislation is normally used to block Chinese takeovers of strategic firms. In 2021, Italian police raided an Italian drone maker, which had allegedly been sold to China without alerting the Italian government, thus evading the law.
Italy’s Defence Ministry would have been closely involved in the decision to halt the Microtecnica sale, a source knowledgeable of the Golden Power law told Defense News.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Safran CEO Olivier Andriès said he was surprised by the decision.
“They assume the worst about our intentions that we will not fairly support or prioritise the Eurofighter,” the Financial Times quoted him as saying. “This is somewhat ironic since we are already suppliers of the Eurofighter and of other Italian defence programmes via various subsidiaries.”
The source knowledgeable of the Golden Power legislation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, said it is unusual Italy had not used the law to set conditions that would have made the purchase possible.
“There was no talk of firewalls or of requirements to supply the Italian armed forces,” he noted.
He also described the veto as strange since Microtecnica was already owned by a U.S. firm, which has been the case since before the introduction of the Golden Power law.
“If Collins had decided to reduce its investment in Microtecnica, there would have been little the Italian government could have done about it,” he said. “But if Safran were to take over the firm under conditions set down by the Golden Power law, it could have been stopped if it tried to reduce investment in the firm.”
Italy’s decision comes a month after Roberto Cingolani, the CEO of Italian defense company Leonardo, said he wanted to create more industrial alliances in Europe.
“We are working on some alliances that should create European hubs in fundamental defense sectors. That means creating entities that are not just Italian, just German or just French, and can compete on level terms with U.S. and China colossuses,” he told Italian lawmakers.
On Nov. 17, the company said it had sold 6.9% of its U.S. subsidiary Leonardo DRS.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will visit Berlin this week and is expected to sign a cooperation deal with Germany covering the defense sector.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.