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Vivendi and Mediaset move towards talks following ECJ ruling

Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine and Mediaset opposite number Pier Silvio Berlusconi are expected to resume contact imminently after Vivendi secured the overturning of an Italian media law that prevented it from exercising its full voting rights as a shareholder in the Italian group, according to press reports.

According to Reuters, citing unnamed sources, an Italian court hearing on Vivendi’s appeal against the regulator’s ruling preventing it from exercising its voting rights is now set for December 16.

Mediaset’s stock price has risen this week over speculation that the warring pair may now strike a compromise, potentially bringing to an end a series of long-running and damaging disputes dating back to 2016, when Vivendi unilaterally pulled out of an agreement that would have seen it acquire the Italian company’s pay TV arm and take a minority stake in the broadcaster.

After that deal collapsed, Vivendi acquired a 29% stake in Mediaset in a series of moves that the Italian company considered hostile. A ruling by media regulator AGCOM forced Vivendi to transfer the bulk of its stake to a trust to meet the terms of the TUSMAR media law that prevented companies from simultaneously holding large stakes in media and telecom companies. Vivendi is the largest single shareholder in Telecom Italia (TIM).

Vivendi this week secured a European Court of Justice ruling that effectively declared that media law to be in breach of EU regulations, opening the way for the French company to exercise its full voting rights.

Vivendi has been adamantly opposed to Mediaset’s plans to merge its Italian and Spanish arms under a single Dutch-registered holding company and was effectively able to scupper that plan through separate legal proceedings in Spain and the Netherlands, despite being unable to exercise full voting rights in Mediaset’s shareholder meetings.

Those legal judgements, together with the ECJ ruling, have significantly strengthened the French media giant’s hand in bringing Mediaset to the negotiating table.

The ECJ ruling also led Mediaset to express an interest in taking a stake in the single Italian fibre network company, details of which were unveiled last week. Vivendi also has an indirect interest in the fibre unit through its stake in Telecom Italia (TIM), which will be the majority shareholder.

However, TIM CEO Luigi Gubitosi dampened expectations that Mediaset might take a stake, saying that expressions of interest from third parties would be “evaluated” but that the advantages of a content company participating in the project were “not clear to me”.