The French government has launched its partial privatisation of Gaz de France (GdF) with an initial public offering that values the company at €21-24 billion.

Under the terms of the privatisation deal, the government will cut its holding in the group to around 80% from its current 100% stake. A maximum of 202.2 million shares will be on offer at €20.7 – 24.0 each. Retail investors and employees will be able to buy the shares at a discount.

Around 40% of proceeds from the offer with be retained by GdF up to a maximum of €2 billion. The state will keep the remainder.

The move sets out the groundwork for a partial privatisation of sister company Electricite de France later this year which aims to raise around €10 billion.

Despite widespread opposition from the unions, the government has pushed the flotation of GdF in order to promote the group to emerge as a player on the wider European stage. GdF already ranks as the third-largest gas distribution company in Europe behind E.On of Germany and ENI of Italy.