MILAN, March 7 (Reuters) - Troubled Italian regional banks Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca said on Tuesday only around 30 percent of shareholders targeted by a settlement offer aimed at reducing the risk of lawsuits had accepted it a week before its expiry.
Lowering legal risks is key for the two banks, which were rescued last year by state-sponsored, privately-funded banking industry fund Atlante and plan to merge before restructuring and looking for a buyer.
Italy is in talks with European authorities over the two banks' restructuring plan as the state is set to step in to cover an estimated 5 billion euro ($5.3 billion) combined capital shortfall.
An important element that EU competition authorities assess before authorising state aid is the chance of the state recouping its investment with a future sale.
Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca said in January they would set aside 600 million euros to repay 15 percent of their investment to thousands of small shareholders who lost all their money in last year's rescue by Atlante.
The two banks are being probed by prosecutors over the alleged misselling of shares to retail investors and new management has said the settlement aims to make them more attractive to potential buyers.
Shareholders who agree to settle must drop any legal claim against the lenders.
The offers run until mid-March. Veneto Banca said in a statement on Tuesday that take-up as of March 6 stood at 34 percent of the shares targeted by the offer and added it may consider extending the March 15 deadline.
Popolare di Vicenza said shareholders representing 29 percent of eligible shares had agreed to settle as of Tuesday and it had not yet decided over a possible extension. ($1 = 0.9459 euros) (Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)