The recently adopted Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation contains new rules that will be of interest to parties that undertake private M&A transactions, particularly those involving foreign investment. Further, it clarifies the measures that the minister of economy can take should an investor pursue an investment without prior authorisation or fail to comply with the conditions set out by the minister in such prior authorisation.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the granting of a call option over an asset which is subject to a pre-emption right violates such pre-emption right. In this specific case, the call option had been exercised when the pre-emption right was no longer applicable. However, the court held that the transfer had breached the pre-emption right as it had resulted from the exercise of a call option agreement that had been entered into when the pre-emption right was still applicable.
The rules and procedures for protecting the interests of French companies when it comes to foreign investments have been amended by Decree 2018/1057, which came into effect on 1 January 2019. The new decree has extended the control of foreign investments to new sectors and enabled targets to take an active part in the process by giving them the right to directly ask the Ministry of Economy and Finance whether the foreseen investment is subject to a prior authorisation.
In the context of the acquisition of group companies, the parties will carefully select what to insert in the bylaws of the company, whereas in separate private agreements, which are confidential, the parties may include further, more detailed information. If the advantage of such private agreements is their confidentiality, the drawback is their lack of enforceability against third parties. The Supreme Court recently held that a sale made in violation of a shareholders' agreement was void by application of the bylaws.
Over the past 10 years, the French M&A market has seen the rise of a powerful new player: the French state. A newly introduced bill would expand the state's ability to oppose the sale or transfer of assets by certain strategic companies in which it holds shares. The changes, which are of particular interest to the M&A community, are part of an omnibus reform of French corporations law known as the Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation.