You know what’s cool to Apax Partners? €9 billion!

Ok, maybe Europe’s mega-buyout market is a lot healthier than a lot of us thought after the implosion of Candover and stock-related struggles at Permira.

Multiple sources tell Term Sheet that Apax Partners has told investors that it plans to target €9 billion for its next Europe-focused buyout fund.

It would be the most ambitious private equity fund-raising effort since The Blackstone Group snared more than $15 billion (or €10.5b, at today’s exchange rates), except that Apax wants to wrap things up much quicker. Books are expected to arrive on prospective investor desks later this quarter, with a first close targeted by Q4 and hopes for a final close by the middle of next year.

This would be a follow-up to the €11.2 billion that the Apax Europe VII fund raised in 2006 (first investment made in March 2007). According to CalSTRS data through Q1 2010, that vehicle had a negative 11.56% internal rate of return (IRR) and was around 55% called down. Its predecessor was marked with a 13.09% IRR and the one before that had a 37.72% IRR.

Apax’s move comes on the heels of news that BC Partners held a €4 billion first close on a €6 billion-targeted fund, and that Cinven is prepping a €5 billion effort. There also is an ongoing fundraising from Sweden’s EQT Partners, while both Permira and CVC Capital Partners are expected to return to market in 2012.

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