BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Commission on Friday approved a deal that will see Etihad Airways take a 49-per-cent stake in Alitalia, effectively rescuing the struggling Italian company.
Brussels gave the merger the go-ahead under the condition that the airlines opened up the Rome-Belgrade route to competitors.
After months of difficult negotiations, Etihad and Alitalia signed a deal on August 8 for the Emirates national carrier to become a shareholder in Italy’s flagship but debt-laden airline, in a move that will widen Etihad’s reach into the European market.
“The European Commission has cleared… the proposed acquisition,” the commission said in a statement.
But it added, “The decision is conditional upon Alitalia CAI and Etihad’s commitment to, in particular, release slots to a new entrant at the airports of Rome Fiumicino and Belgrade.”
Etihad, based in Abu Dhabi, is expected to invest 560 million euros ($750 million) to become the main stakeholder in the Italian airline, which has lurched from crisis to crisis for years.
Key stumbling blocks in the drawn-out merger negotiations were Alitalia’s debt of about 1.0 billion euros and overstaffing issues.
Both airlines hailed the go-ahead.
“We are delighted to be able to move forward with this process and look forward to … the final conclusion of a our transaction with Alitalia,” Etihad chief James Hogan said.
Alitalia boss Gabriele del Torchio added, “This is an excellent outcome for Alitalia. This investment will provide financial stability and a foundation for impressive long-term growth for the company.”