18 OCTOBER 1997, Page 32

Jeux sans frontieres

BARCLAYS has an odd sense of timing. Its unhappy decision to demolish BZW and put its bids and deals business up for sale comes just when Europe's boardrooms are discovering the joys of the takeover bid — and before they discover that the only sure- fire winners are the deal-makers. One day this week saw something like .E50 billion of business, and the French have even learned to make hostile bids, which I always thought were barred by the rules of the Club des Anciens Garcons de l'Ecole Nationale d'Administration, to which every boss worth knowing belongs. All the more fun to make mergers across borders and so help to create the new economic union. My memory goes back to Dunlop-Pirelli, which was billed as the first great trans-European marriage. Anglo-Italian matches can lead to bad feeling, as we know. Doubtless by accident, Pirelli showed Dunlop the wrong set of books. It was the first of a series of punctures that left Dunlop flattened. Guin- ness, now, must be sorry that it ever exchanged shares with Bernard Arnault of Louis Vuitton Modt Hennessy. Exploiting his nuisance value to the full, Mr Arnault will graciously let Guinness merge with Grand Met and will receive £250 million It's a good game, as I say, if you're on the right end of it.