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France denies Rio Tinto nationalisation rumours

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-12

François Hollande’s Socialist government denied rumours on Wednesday that its Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg (pictured) was planning to nationalise a French aluminium plant owned by Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto.

The French government denied a newspaper report Wednesday that Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg was considering nationalising an aluminium plant owned by Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto.

Le Monde newspaper reported that the move was being studied by officials working for Montebourg, just 10 days after the government rejected a similar proposal for Indian steelmaker ArcelorMittal's Florange steel plant in eastern France.

But his ministry issued a terse statement saying it "denies the information appearing in Le Monde about Rio Tinto Alcan's Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne factory."

There was no immediate comment from Rio Tinto.

Montebourg was vociferous in his support for nationalisation in the case of ArcelorMittal and was reported to have come close to resigning after failing to convince his colleagues in a debate that exposed fault-lines within the Socialist government.

EDF wrangle

The minister's officials are currently negotiating with Rio Tinto's Alcan unit over the future of the plant at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the French Alps.

Key to the negotiations is the company's demand for a reduction in the prices it pays for electricity bought from energy giant Electricite de France (EDF), in which the government has a controlling stake.

The plant's current electricity deal expires in the spring of 2014 and Rio Tinto has threatened to sell or close it if its demands are not met.

In October, it said several potential buyers had been in touch about a possible takeover.

Like Florange, the aluminium plant is seen as a symbol of France's declining industrial base.

It was originally owned by French group Pechiney, which was bought out by Canada's Alcan in 2003. Alcan itself was taken over by Rio Tinto four years later.

EU ‘global village idiot’

Montebourg on Monday described the European Union as “the global village idiot” due to what he labelled a lack of protectionism. “The EU is the only one that does not protect itself against unfair competition. We have become the idiots of the global village,” he told his European counterparts at a meeting in Brussels.

“For 30 years, consumers have made the law in Europe and the result has been a disaster. Me, I defend the producers,” he said, according to French officials.

Montebourg’s recent flurry of activity has earned him a boost in popularity among the French public but has also seen him cross paths with Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, with whom he’s said to hold a frosty relationship.

Last week, Montebourg was reported to have handed in his resignation letter over the ArcelorMittal debacle, but it was rejected by President François Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-12-12

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