Any Europeans dismayed over the election of a right-wing lunatic in South Carolina -- oops, we mean Austria -- had plenty of other news to distract them this weekend.

A pair of British insurers will announce a merger Monday, industry sources tell

Reuters

.

Norwich Union

and

CGU

will form a company worth $30.5 billion, making it one of Europe's top insurance companies, the news agency reports.

France's

Vivendi

, meanwhile, has sold 40 power plants to a subsidiary of Houston-based

Reliant Energy

(REI) - Get Report

,

Reuters

reports. Vivendi bought the plants, most of them concentrated in the mid-Atlantic region, from

GPU

(GPU)

in November.

The

Muppets

are about to take Munich. German media group

EM.TV & Merchandising

will announce Monday the takeover of the Los Angeles-based

Jim Henson Co.

,

Focus

news weekly reports. Terms have not yet been disclosed, but the deal is said to be worth less than $800 million.

GM

(GM) - Get Report

may have a solution to

BMW's

difficulty in extracting a profit from its

Land Rover

unit. The U.S. automaker may offer its German counterpart use of its Astra production platform, the

Sunday Times

in London reported. GM is said to be interested in Land Rover, which makes off-road vehicles bearing the same name in the U.K., or a stake in BMW.

Farther east, GM is denying a report in the Japanese newspaper

Yomiuri Shimbun

that it plans to share computer systems for designing and developing cars with its auto partners in Japan.

Elsewhere in the auto industry,

Ford

(F) - Get Report

has settled a U.S. Labor Department discrimination complaint. The company agreed to pay $3.8 million to female and minority job applicants and hire 100 workers from these groups at seven of its assembly and parts plants.

One of America's premier investment banks and a California technology fund are talking about launching a European online bank, the

Sunday Times

reported.

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report

and

Idealab

are exploring the idea, which they estimate will require millions of pounds.

The U.K.'s

Granada

is considering a friendly approach to a worldwide catering company, the

Mail on Sunday

reported. The companies it is looking at include

Aramark

and France's

Elior

, the newspaper said.

How much would you pay for a human kidney? An auction for one such organ on

eBay's

(EBAY) - Get Report

German Web site drew a bid of $100,000 before the auctioneer intervened and shut it down over the weekend. An eBay representative told

Reuters

such offers are often jokes.

In Japan, the

Nikkei

average was down 95.51 points to 19,693.52, a loss of 0.48%, in early Monday trading.

Having trounced

John McCain

53% to 42% in South Carolina Saturday,

George W. Bush

rebounded from his earlier loss in the New Hampshire Republican primary. The two candidates will square off again Tuesday in the Michigan and Arizona primaries.

In the Papers

The

Alaska Airlines

(ALK) - Get Report

jet that crashed last month was built at a

McDonnell Douglas

aircraft factory repeatedly faulted for sloppy workmanship, the

Los Angeles Times

reported Sunday. The newspaper found no evidence, however, that the problems played a role in the crash, and reported that the Federal Aviation Administration did not consider them a threat to flight safety. McDonnell Douglas is now owned by

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

.

Another flight came close to meeting its doom the day before the Alaska Airlines crash, the

Washington Post

reported Sunday. A

Spirit Airlines

jetliner, heading from Fort Myers to Detroit on Jan. 30, nearly fell from the sky during what is known as a stall. The newspaper said the flight captain did not report the problem upon landing and has subsequently been suspended.

Electronics giant

Philips

(PHG) - Get Report

could be seeing its stock take off, several analysts predict in the latest edition of

Barron's

. Amid a series of joint ventures, the company also plans to shed its information technology services division in an initial public offering later this year so it can focus on its core businesses of consumer electronics and semiconductors.

Barron's

also features an interview with Chicago money manager

Richard Driehaus

. His stock picks include

ArthroCare

(ARTC)

,

Check Point Software

(CHKP) - Get Report

,

CYTYC

(CYTC)

,

Ditech Communications

(DITC)

,

Hanover Compressor

(HC)

,

Harmonic

(HLIT) - Get Report

,

MRV Communications

(MRVC)

,

Novellus Systems

(NVLS)

,

Scientific-Atlanta

(SFA)

and

China.com

(CHINA)

.

David Rheingold is a New York-based freelance writer. At the time of publication he had no positions in any of the securities mentioned, although holdings can change at any time.