updated 6/26/2006 11:21:50 AM ET 2006-06-26T15:21:50

A French shareholder group said Monday it is suing Airbus parent EADS, as talks progress on an expected management shake-up at the European defense group.

The Association of Active Shareholders said it was opening a “French-style class action” against European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., due to the company’s announcement earlier this month of new delays to the Airbus A380 superjumbo. The company said the production hitches would shave 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) off profit over four years, and EADS shares plunged 26 percent on the June 14 statement.

The shareholder association is seeking up to 10 billion euros ($12.5 billion) in damages, its statement said.

The move comes amid continuing pressure on Noel Forgeard, the French co-chief executive of EADS, who made 2.5 million euros ($3.1 million) selling off EADS stock in March, just weeks before the company ordered an internal assessment of the delays.

France’s Financial Markets Authority is probing Forgeard’s transactions, as well as share sales by five other EADS directors and its two core shareholders — French defense and media group Lagardere SCA and German carmaker DaimlerChrysler AG.

Lagardere now owns 7.5 percent of EADS, DaimlerChrysler 22.5 percent and the French government 15 percent. Spain holds about 5 percent of EADS’ capital, and the remaining 50 percent is publicly traded.

France has been pressing for a swift shakeup at EADS and Airbus, its 80 percent-owned civil airliner unit, and the Finance Ministry said Saturday that a decision was expected within three days.

Finance Minister Thierry Breton held talks over the weekend with representatives of DaimlerChrysler and Lagardere, two people close to the discussions said.

The French government has agreed to let the two private shareholders call the shots — as stipulated by EADS statutes — and a decision may not be forthcoming within the timeframe suggested by the ministry, the people said. They asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential.

Germany had voiced concern after French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin suggested he was seeking a bigger state role in the management of EADS and a revision of its ownership structure, which scrupulously balances French and German interests.

“We don’t see any reason for a change to the established structures ... and the joint leadership,” German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Monday.

Amid mounting expectations of a management shake-up, EADS shares rose 3.8 percent in Paris to 22.86 euros ($28.58) — still 10 percent below its closing price June 13, on the eve of the Airbus delay announcement.

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