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France says ‘buyer found' for ArcelorMittal site
The French government said Wednesday that it had found a potential buyer for steel giant ArcelorMittal’s operations in Florange. France is locked in a bitter dispute with the steel giant to avoid the closure of two furnaces at the site.
The French government has found a potential buyer for steelmaker ArcelorMittal’s Florange site in northeast France, Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said on Wednesday.
“We have a buyer who is a steelmaker, an industrialist, not a financier, who moreover wants to invest his own money and ... is ready to invest nearly 400 million euros to renovate this site,” Montebourg told the National Assembly.
The announcement is the latest development in an increasingly heated dispute between France and the steel giant in which a French minister stated that the multinational is no longer welcome in the country.
French President Francois Hollande warned Tuesday that “nationalisation is part of the subjects of the discussion", moments before talks with ArcelorMittal steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal.
ArcelorMittal has argued that two blast furnaces at Florange, which were shut down for 14 months prior to their full closure, were uncompetitive in a tough trading climate and too far away from ports to be viable. Their closure affects some 625 jobs out of a total 2,500 at the site.
Mittal’s Florange site is in the traditional, but declining, heartland of the French steel industry in the eastern Lorraine region.
But the steel giant refuses to sell and wants to retain the rest of the site because of its continued profitability. It doesn’t want to see the site nationalised then sold off in its entirety to one of its competitors.
ArcelorMittal has infuriated the French authorities, especially because it has benefitted over the years from large subsidy payments designed to keep the French steel industry alive.
There is concern in some sections of the French business community that the dispute could have a short-term negative impact on business relations with India. The case has attracted much negative media attention in India, with the respected Times of India arguing that France’s "hard line" stance on the issue was the, “wrong message at the wrong time”.
France has until Saturday to find a buyer.
(FRANCE24 with wires)