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Economy

France could still nationalise ArcelorMittal furnaces, leading Socialist says

media Local union representative, Edouard Martin, with other Florange workers Edouard Martin, le délégué syndical CFDT-g), et ses camarades, sont déçus par l'accord obtenu par le gouvernement français et ArcelorMittal, Florange, le 30 novembre 2012. AFP

The French government might still nationalise ArcelorMittal’s blast furnaces at Florange, eastern France, if the steel giant fails to keep promises made to the government this week, a leading member of François Hollande’s Socialist Party said Friday.

“The condition put by the state was that ArcelorMittal commit itself to maintain jobs and development of the industrial project in the future,” said Socialist Party national secretary and MEP Harlem Désir Friday.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Trade unions at the site accused the company and the government of betraying them on Thursday, following the European Union’s announcement that ArcelorMittal had withdrawn a bid for an EU low-CO2 steel production project.

The state could well revive the threat of nationalisation, made by Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg when the company threatened to close the site, if it fails to keep its commitments.

Unions say that the Ulcos environmentally friendly steel production project is the only hope for the Florange blast furnaces to be brought back into action and cried treason when the EU announced that the bid had been dropped because of “technical problems”.

Désir insited that there will be a further bid, adding that the French government has committed 150 million euros and Mittal 180 million euros over five years to ensure that Florange would work on the project.

On Thursday Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office insisted that there well be a “Ulcos 2” and expressed disappointment at the unions’ reaction.

And President François Hollande declared himself a “guarantor” for the deal signed with the company this week.

Ayrault earlier quashed Montebourg’s threat to temporarily nationalise the site while waiting to sell to another owner, claiming that it was unviable and would cost “at least a billion euros”.

Local workes, who occupied the furnaces, supported the take-over threat, as did the majority of French people, according to opinion polls.

ArcelorMittal’s Indian boss, Lakshmi Mittal, on Friday promised to keep production in France, in a letter to employees, and rejected claims that the company had broken promises to the French government made in 2006.

The latest agreement meant that the company would not demolish the blast furnaces for six years but would “provisionally” halt production there, he wrote.

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