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BERLIN, March 1 (Reuters) - The German government would not oppose a suitable French candidate to replace Tom Enders as chief executive of European planemaker Airbus when his term expires in 2019, German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries said on Thursday.
Zypries told reporters it would be difficult for Germany, which alongside France holds a stake in Europe's largest aerospace company, to block a French candidate after years of having Enders, a German, at the helm.
"The most important thing is that it is someone who is qualified," Zypries said, adding: "The competition in America is not sleeping."
Enders announced in December he would not seek a new mandate when his term expires in 2019.
Germany and France are the two single largest stakeholders in Airbus, with each holding just over 11 percent of the company's shares.
Enders told shareholders last month he still held the reins and sought to address concerns about continuity as a raft of industrial executives prepare to leave or retire from Airbus.
It remains unclear who will succeed Enders in 2019. Although Airbus officials insist that should not be an issue until later this year, industry sources call it a potential distraction.
The main internal candidate is Guillaume Faury, a French citizen and the former helicopter unit chief who recently replaced Ender's previous No. 2 Fabrice Bregier.
But the board is also expected to examine fresh blood such as Thales CEO Patrice Caine, two industry sources have told Reuters.
Le Figaro newspaper has also identified former Air France-KLM chief Alexandre de Juniac, currently head of the International Air Transport Association, as a contender.
Some German company officials, including Airbus defence chief Dirk Hoke, have also been named as possible successors. (Reporting by Rene Wagner and Andrea Shalal Writing by Andrea Shalal Editing by Paul Carrel and Mark Potter)