With the takeover of the French FTX shipyards in February, Italy’s Fincantieri aspires to lead an “Airbus of the Seas” European conglomerate that can lead both the civil shipbuilding sector and compete in the international defence procurement industry.

Fincantieri took control of France’s STX shipyards in February 2018, after the French government waved some of its objections. Both Fincantieri and STX are state-owned.

The rational of the merger is that European shipbuilding needs a sectoral champion to compete with China and the United States, Fincantieri CEO Giuseppe Bono told reporters on Tuesday.

In June 2018, Fincantieri and the French Naval Group delivered plans for a joint defence venture, which would not require a full merger. However, jointly bidding for defence procurement projects is notoriously complicated.

On Tuesday, Fincantieri announced a deal on cooperation with the state-owned Leonardo, signalling its ambition to grow its defence procurement business. Leonardo specializes in naval combat systems, competing in the sector with Thales, the French developer.  That appears a fine political balance to maintain in the state-owned defence sector.

Developing a consortium without a merger is a fine balance, industrial and political. According to Maritime Executive, there are questions over the ability of the newly elected government in Italy and the French administration to cooperate in a sector so closely linked to national defence policy.