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Italy's League party pushes for multiple-vote shares to boost IPOs

FILE PHOTO: The Italian Stock Exchange in Milan, Italy

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's rightist League has presented to parliament a bill that would strengthen the ability of listed companies to issue special shares with enhanced voting rights and keep more of them on the Milan market, party lawmaker Giulio Centemero said.

The scheme aims to stem a trend for listed companies to move abroad and help entrepreneurs to float their businesses in Milan without worrying about losing control to other shareholders, Centemero told Reuters.

His move comes as the Treasury is working on its own bill to be presented by April to address the broader issues holding back the country's capital markets and reinforce the role of the 200-year-old Borsa Italiana.

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Last year 15 companies abandoned Euronext Milan, including the Agnelli family's holding company Exor, with only six newcomers to partially compensate for exits.

Some of those which left Milan were drawn to other bourses, notably Amsterdam, where regulations help leading shareholders to preserve a tight grip on companies.

"Allowing a structure similar to the Dutch one in Italy could help make the Milan stock exchange more attractive," Centemero said, adding that such incentives would need to be approved by a large share of minority investors before being adopted.

The Treasury studied a proposal to extend differentiated voting rights in its Green Paper on capital markets published a year ago, though the process was frozen due to the election in September that saw nationalist Giorgia Meloni come to power as prime minister.

Seen as a way to promote investments, multiple-vote shares do not find unanimous support, as institutional investors continue to advocate the "one share, one vote" principle to grant an equal treatment to all shareholders.

Should it be approved, Centemero's proposal would allow the by-laws of listed companies to include a provision for the creation of a class of special shares, with no overall limits on their voting power.

Current rules prohibit listed Italian companies from issuing multiple-vote shares, except in the form of the so-called "loyalty share scheme", that confers two voting rights to long-standing shareholders of at least 24 months.

Non-listed firms are allowed to issue special shares that give existing investors a right to cast up to three votes for each share.

(Editing by Keith Weir and Shounak Dasgupta)