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Economy

Hollande booed at closed ArcelorMittal steel furnace

media President Francois Hollande (L) talks to local union leader Edouard Martin during Thursday's visit reuters/Michel Euler

French President François Hollande was met with boos and whistles when he returned to a steelworks in eastern France, a year and a half after promising to fight ArcelorMittal's plan to close the site's blast furnaces. Hollande promised that a research centre will be opened at the site but that did not satisfy the 629 workers employed at the furnaces.

Hollande, who received a hero's welcome when he visited the Florange site in February 2012, on Thursday scuttled past protesting workers into the the office block where he met management and trade unionists, spending two hours with the workers' representatives in a session that one of his advisers described as "a bit hard at the beginning".

Although Hollande did not explicitly promise to prevent the closure, which ArcelorMittal went ahead with after rancorous negotiations with the government, workers and their union representatives on Thursday had no compunction in crying treason.

Hollande told them that an international centre for research into the "steel of tomorrow" would be set up on the site in 2014 with a budget of 20 million euros.

He also promised to return every year to monitor progress.

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ArcelorMittal, which still employs over 1,800 workers at Florange, has promised to invest 180 million euros there over the next five years.

During his 2012 visit Hollande promised a law to force large companies to find a buyer if they wanted to cease production at an industrial site.

That pledge has been watered down to an obligation to look for buyers and will be voted on in parliament on 1 October.

The steelworks of the Lorraine region in eastern France have become a symbol of declining industry in France.

François Hollande's failed attempt to save the plant at Florange echos that of his predeccessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Five kilometres separate Florange and Gandrange, two towns whose ArcelorMittal steelworks have met a similar fate.

In 2008 then-president Nicolas Sarkozy promised France everything necessary to keep the troubled steelworks at Gandrange in operation.

The plant's closure the following year became a symbol of the president's broken promises, which Francois Hollande did not fail to point out in the 2012 presidential election campaign.

Hollande went to Florange in 2012, offering solidarity with the workers and vowing a different outcome if he were elected president.

After entering office, he promised the state would sustain the plant but that pledge too has given way to a closure.

The irony is not lost on workers, who have put up plaques in each of the towns, both commemorating the broken promises of two different presidents.
 

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