Steel tycoon Mittal hits out at ‘irrational’ French minister
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Steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal spoke of his shock on Thursday at being told he was “not welcome in France” by a French minister. Mittal said a government threat to nationalise his steel plant would have been a “giant leap backwards” for France.
Global steel giant Lakshmi Mittal expressed his surprise on Thursday at his treatment at the hands of an “irrational” French government minister who had told him his company was no longer welcome in France.
Last month France’s outspoken minister for industrial recovery, Arnaud Montebourg, attacked Mittal over his company’s controversial decision to close two blast furnaces in Florange, eastern France, with the loss of around 630 jobs.
Montebourg, known for being a loose cannon, slammed ArcelorMittal for not respecting France and said it was “no longer welcome" in the country.
Speaking for the first time since Montebourg’s outburst, Mittal - Britain’s richest man - told French daily Le Figaro he was taken aback by the venom of the attack, which was all the more surprising given his significant investments in France.
“Of course I was shocked, by these words, even saddened. I would never have expected to hear something so irrational from a minister,” he said.
“ArcelorMittal has 20,000 employees in France. This country represents 35 percent of our steel production in Europe and we have invested two billion euros in France since 2006.”
Nationalisation a ‘backward leap’
After Montebourg’s broadside, tensions mounted further when French President François Hollande appeared to tempt Mittal towards the exit door when he dangled the threat of nationalising the whole of ArcelorMittal’s Florange plant if it pursued its plan to cut jobs.
The rest of the site contains more profitable facilities that Mittal wanted to keep.
ArcelorMittal, which insists the blast furnaces are uneconomical, responded by floating its own threat, suggesting nationalisation would cast doubt on the future of all its operations in France.
Although the two sides reached a last-ditch deal, which for now has staved off the threat of nationalisation, Mittal was still stunned that a government takeover had ever been evoked.
“It was not just me, the whole world was surprised,” he said. “If a country like France, the fifth biggest economy in the world talks about natonalisation in this day and age, that’s a huge leap backwards.
"These kind of threats will make an investor maybe think twice before putting his money in France."
Business leader and head of employers’ union Medef, Maurence Parisot echoed Mittal’s words on Thursday, saying nationalisation would have been a ‘disaster’ for France and its image in the eyes of investors.
Mittal told Le Figaro, however, that he did not get the impression during the “tough” talks that France’s president was too keen on the nationalisation option.
“No threats are necessary”
Under the deal struck between the two sides the two blast furnaces would be closed with ArcelorMittal agreeing not to proceed with forced job cuts and promising to invest 180 million euros in the plant.
The deal, however, was not received well by trade unions and those on the left, who have little faith that Mittal will stick to the agreement.
"Mittal has never kept his promises in the past," said French Ecology Minister Delphine Batho while Edouard Martin, a spokesman for the CFDT union at the Florange plant said: "We don't trust Mittal at all. We have the feeling we have once again been betrayed."
But Mittal, who described the deal with the French government as "fair", promised to stick to his side of the bargain.
“No threats are necessary for us to keep our promises and the government is always welcome to check,” he said.
On Thursday union leaders are set to meet representatives from ArcelorMittal to hear their solution for the future of the Florange site.
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