Mittal meets Hollande over steel plant row in France

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SummaryFrench prez says will consider nationalising the arcelormittal plant

French President Francois Hollande has met with the chief of ArcelorMittal after a minister in his government suggested that the steel giant should be ousted from France.

Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg earlier this week accused the company of lying to the government over its plan to shutter a blast furnace in the northeast town of Florange, threatening some 600 jobs.

The minister later sought to tone down his comments, telling reporters that ArcelorMittal's presence in France “was not in jeopardy.''

Hollande met with CEO Lakshmi Mittal on Tuesday to discuss the issue. Hollande said the government would consider nationalising the plant to save it. “It is part of the subjects of discussion,'' he said, according to the news agency Sipa.

The fate of the site has become a litmus test of the Socialist president’s strategy to rescue the struggling economy, improve competitiveness and create jobs.

Mittal is engaged in a fight with French ministers over the future of the site in the traditional, but declining, heartland of France’s steel industry in the eastern Lorraine region. ArcelorMittal has said that two blast furnaces at Florange, which were damped down for 14 months prior to their full closure, were uncompetitive in a tough trading climate, partly because they are too far from ports for transportation. France has until Saturday to find a buyer for them. It says it has two offers, but only for the entire Florange site including other facilities which Mittal wants to keep operating.

Mittal has refused to sell the full operation and warned that nationalisation of the Florange facilities would threaten the viability of all of its activities across France, where it employs 20,000 people.

Montebourg, who is suggesting that the state nationalise Florange so as to pass the entire site on to a buyer, raised the stakes yesterday, saying France did not want ArcelorMittal in the country and was looking for a partner to take over the group’s operations at the plant.

“We do not want Mittal in France any longer because they do not respect France,” Montebourg told the French financial daily Les Echos.

“Mittal’s lies since 2006 are damning,” the minister said. But Montebourg later said he meant he did not want Mittal’s methods in France, accusing it of “non-respect of its commitments, blackmail and threats.”

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