Plans to merge France’s two biggest energy providers have prompted an outcry in Italy. Details of the deal between Gaz de France and the smaller utility Suez are due to be announced later today. But it’s only days since the Italian company Enel hinted at a takeover bid. The French government owns a majority stake in Gaz de France.Italian ministers say the deal is an attempt to thwart their’s, and keep Suez under French control. The boards of Gaz de France and Suez met at the weekend to finalise terms for the merger. It would create Europe’s second-biggest power company with a market value of 72 billion euros. “We need to find out if the European Community rules on competition still apply, or if in Europe, as it is today, governments can influence the market by intervening in business affairs,” said Italian minister Claudio Scajola. After news of the merger broke, Scajola cancelled a meeting with his French counterpart, scheduled for today. “I can understand why some people want to make the link, but as far as I remember there was never a definite offer of a takeover, only rumours,” says French budget minister Jean-Francois Copé. France has come under fire for its policy of “economic protectionism”, where national interests are paramount when it comes to business deals. But critics say the idea limits the free market and is anti-European.