two companies are interested, but has declined to identify them.
Mittal, who built ArcelorMittal from the 2006 merger of his Mittal Steel with Arcelor, then the largest European steel maker, promised at the time to help modernise the European steel sector, but the company says that the Florange facility was already slated for closure under Arcelor, its previous owner. This week he has countered the Montebourg threat with a warning of his own, saying in a statement that any sale of the entire Florange plant “would jeopardise the viability” of the rest of ArcelorMittal’s operations in France.
Initially dismissed as rhetorical arm-twisting by Hollande’s Socialist government, Montebourg’s talk of nationalisation has now garnered support from across the French political spectrum. On Tuesday, Henri Guaino, a close political associate of Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, revealed in an interview with the business newspaper Les Échos that Sarkozy had himself grappled with the question of whether to temporarily nationalise another ArcelorMittal facility, in the eastern city of Gandrange, in 2008.
The Sarkozy government ultimately failed to find a suitable private investor to take over the Gandrange plant and ArcelorMittal closed the site a year later, resulting in the loss of nearly 600 jobs — and no small amount of political face for Sarkozy.
In the interview, Guaino said the steel maker had acted in bad faith, adding: “One can ask the question of whether we were right to have trusted Mittal.”
There are precedents for nationalisation, including the late Socialist President François Mitterrand’s takeover of most of the banking sector in 1982, fulfilling a longstanding Socialist policy goal, and analysts said there was no legal impediment to such a move.
Asked in 2011, as ArcelorMittal was discussing the closure of a plant in Liège, Belgium, if European Union treaties prohibited nationalisation, the European competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, said that the rules required only that the state act as a private enterprise would in the market, paying the owner the full value of the nationalised property and seeking to make a profit.
The most likely obstacles might be financial: At a time when France is raising taxes and freezing spending