* Chairman Reitzle endorsed by 94.47 pct of shareholders
* No vote on Praxair merger at 7-hour AGM attended by 2,500
* Reitzle reiterates would use casting vote to push merger
(Releads with vote, adds chairman, shareholder quotes)
By Georgina Prodhan and Jörn Poltz
MUNICH, May 10 The chairman of German industrial
gases group Linde got an effective green light on
Wednesday for his long-desired $70 billion merger with U.S. peer
Praxair despite a protest vote by shareholders dismayed at the
way he is pushing it through.
Wolfgang Reitzle was endorsed by 94.47 percent of
shareholders at Linde's annual meeting, a poor result by German
standards and the second-lowest showing among the company's
executives and directors after fired finance chief Georg Denoke.
"And now, the bogeyman," Reitzle quipped as he read out the
vote for himself at the end of a seven-hour meeting attended by
about 2,500 shareholders, an unusually high number. The vote has
only symbolic significance.
Reitzle has complained that he is being demonised by trade
unions who oppose the planned all-share merger of equals. He
argues it will bring benefits for all concerned by strengthening
Linde's global presence and making it more competitive.
"It's a super successful international company that will now
be number one in the world," he told the AGM. "We won't suddenly
become a cold-hearted firm just because we have an American
Under the terms of the merger to create the world's biggest
industrial gases group, which are still being finalised, the new
Linde will be run out of Danbury, Connecticut by Praxair's CEO
Steve Angel, with Reitzle as chairman.
The headquarters of the new holding company will probably be
in Ireland, Linde CEO Aldo Belloni said on Wednesday.
Labour representatives fiercely oppose the planned merger,
mainly because the moving of the headquarters outside Germany
will dilute their influence, which currently under German law
gives them an effective veto over strategic decisions.
Reitzle may have to use his casting vote to outgun labour
representatives when it comes to a vote on the merger by Linde's
supervisory board. He reiterated he was prepared to do so.
Some shareholders expressed concern that the strife over the
merger was distracting Linde management from day-to-day
operations, and that a discontented workforce would not make for
a successful new merged entity.
Others criticised Reitzle, a former CEO of Linde, for
exceeding the bounds of his non-executive role, while many are
upset that there will be no shareholder meeting called to vote
on the merger. Instead, investors will be individually invited
to tender their shares.
"One gets the impression that you are taking the whole
company out of the hands of the management board," said fund
manager Winfried Mathes of Deka Investment, which owns 0.8
percent of Linde shares. He compared Reitzle to a puppet-master.
Reitzle took up talks with Praxair soon after returning to
the German company as chairman last year after a two-year
cooling off period which he spent steering cement maker Holcim's
mega-merger with Lafarge.
The talks failed the first time around, leading to the
departure of Linde's CEO and CFO, the installation of retired
company veteran Belloni as the new CEO, and a second run at
merger talks soon afterwards.
Linde's share price was volatile during those turbulent
months. It is now close to an 18 month high.
"Seldom has a company been plunged into such chaos as Linde
through its strived-for merger with Praxair," fund manager Ingo
Speich of Union Investment, the 12th largest shareholder in
Linde with just under 1 percent of shares, told the meeting.
"We want the merger, but not at any price," he said.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Maria Sheahan and