France demands restart of threatened Mittal furnaces

Thu Sep 27, 2012 12:58pm EDT
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By Gilbert Reilhac

FLORANGE, France (Reuters) - The French government urged ArcelorMittal ISPA.AS on Thursday to restart idled blast furnaces at a plant in northeastern France or put them up for sale, declaring itself in a "tug-of-war" with the steel giant over their fate.

President Francois Hollande held talks with ArcelorMittal's chief executive after a media report that the firm will shut the furnaces at a plant which became symbolic of France's industrial decline during campaigning for May's presidential election.

Speaking to angry workers at the plant in the town of Florange, Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said Hollande had called on Lakshmi Mittal to invest 150 million euros in the site or sell the furnaces.

"We are now in a conflict with ArcelorMittal," Montebourg said in a speech frequently interrupted by jeers. "It's a difficult tug-of-war."

"The French government has at the highest level insisted ... that we want the restart of these two furnaces at Florange that have been idled for 14 months," he added.

The furnaces - where iron is extracted from ore for use in steel production - employ about 550 of the 2,800 workers at the Florange plant, the rest of which is operational.

Earlier, Liberation daily said the government was offering to buy the two furnaces - idled since last year due to weak international demand - for a single euro so that it could then seek a company willing to operate them.

Montebourg did not make reference to any such offer in his speech. Earlier his spokeswoman confirmed talks were taking place with the company but declined to comment on their content.   Continued...

France's Minister for Industrial Recovery Arnaud Montebourg (L) talks to ArcelorMittal workers from Florange after a meeting with trade union representatives at the town hall in Florange, Eastern France, September 27, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler