Netherlands builds Air France-KLM stake to 'protect' interests

Netherlands builds Air France-KLM stake to 'protect' interests

Netherlands builds Air France-KLM stake to 'protect' interests

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra - who announced the shares purchase Tuesday - will be in Paris "in the coming days", Le Maire said.

The move stunned Paris, with Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire saying the Dutch government had not informed the French state.

As the major shareholder in the airline, the French state enjoys voting rights of about 23 percent in Air France-KLM.

Diplomatic tensions have erupted between France and the Netherlands after ministers in the Hague said that they had taken a stake in Air France-KLM, the Franco-Dutch airline, without informing Paris.

Later on Wednesday, the Dutch government said it had increased its stake even further - to 14 percent - which almost matches the French state holding of 14.3 percent.

The Air France-KLM company logo is seen during the company's half-year results in Paris, France, August 1, 2018.

The Dutch finance ministry said the stake would help the government safeguard the thousands of jobs and investment made by Air France-KLM in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the airlines' global hub.

Despite the recent upheaval, Air France-KLM reported last week that its annual net profits rose by 150 percent to 409 million euros ($463 million).

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CEO Smith travelled to the Netherlands for an uncomfortable meeting with Finance Minister Hoekstra before an Air France board meeting on February 19.

Air France-KLM is a holding company which oversees both Air France and KLM.

The group has trailed rivals Lufthansa and British Airways on profitability, held back by restrictive French union deals and strikes that past year wiped €335-million off earnings and forced out its CEO. Schiphol is Europe's third busiest airport after London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

The letter lays out Dutch complaints against the French-dominated management, saying the Netherlands cabinet was not "sufficiently included" in decisions to co-operate with Delta Air Lines and China Eastern Airlines.

The Dutch government made a decision to purchase the shares in the holding group following a recent disagreement.

Air France-KLM CEO Benjamin Smith met Dutch government ministers in The Hague this month to discuss the airlines' future. In a similar air the French President, Emmanuel Macron, believes the Dutch government should clarify its intentions. Hoekstra said Amsterdam chose to interfere as more and more key decisions were being made at the level of the holding.

The move is likely to heighten strained relations between the Dutch and French finance ministries, which have clashed over the future direction of the eurozone within the past year-and-a-half.

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