November 3, 2017 / 7:18 PM / in a year

UPDATE 1-Germany rebuffs speculation over Airbus CEO, structure

(Adds quotes, further details)

By Paul Carrel and Tim Hepher

BERLIN/PARIS, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Germany sought to dispel speculation about the future of Airbus and its chief executive Tom Enders on Friday, after media reports of a French campaign to oust him and restore greater political influence, four years after its management won independence from government interference.

The intervention was the first official attempt to steady the boat as the company faces accusations of an internal witch hunt following Enders' decision to report past irregularities in the use of commercial sales agents to the UK authorities, sparking a corruption probe.

French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine said on Wednesday that French President Emmanuel Macron hoped to find a French replacement for Enders, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support, amid growing turmoil at the company.

The report rekindled memories of governments intervening directly in one of Europe's flagship companies after it was brought under French and German industrial leadership in 2000.

France on Thursday called for more transparency from the group as it weathers a growing crisis over the investigation into past sales practices.

Germany took a stand against sweeping changes on Friday.

"There is no need to discuss who will succeed Enders, whose contract expires in 2019," a German government spokesman said.

"We have a shareholder structure for Airbus that works and there is at the moment no reason from the perspective of the federal government as a shareholder to work on a change of either the stakes or the rules," spokesman Steffen Seibert told a regular government news conference.

French officials and Airbus declined to comment.


Enders has come under increasing pressure over the conduct of an internal investigation that is being conducted in parallel with the external probes into sales practices launched by the UK and France.

Sources close to the company say repeated grillings have angered staff and alarmed French networks of influence abroad.

Supporters of Enders say there is no choice but to adapt to modern-day regulations and see the process through.

Two people close to the matter dismissed the idea of a politically motivated bid to wrest back control or sack the chief executive and denied this would appeal to Macron, who agreed as a presidential adviser in 2012 to the governments giving Airbus management free rein.

"Macron knows the agreements by heart; he signed them," a person involved in the corporate reforms said.

Another, however, said the media reports were being read as a warning to the board not to let the crisis get out of control or damage French interests.

Despite easing speculation over his future, Berlin's support is unlikely to sit well with Enders, a person close to him said.

He has often clashed with his own government and initially opposed moves for it to become a shareholder in 2013 - part of a complex deal to allow German and French industrial shareholders in Airbus to sell out while actually limiting the governments' influence to that of normal shareholders.

Opening the door to political debate over Airbus would be fought by Enders, but sources close to the company say his future is now effectively tied to his handling of the probes.

A senior industry source warned that any prolonged turmoil could hamper management efforts to execute strategy, including completing a deal to take over the CSeries jet project from Canada's Bombardier. (Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Thomas Escritt)

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