France won't buy troubled Petroplus refinery: Hollande

Sat Jan 5, 2013 9:44am EST
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By Elizabeth Pineau and John Irish

VAL-DE-REUIL, France (Reuters) - France will not take over insolvent Swiss refiner Petroplus' oil refinery in Normandy, but could help the plant financially once a suitable buyer is found, President Francois Hollande said on Saturday.

About 500 jobs at the 161,000 barrels-a-day Petit-Couronne refinery are at risk, the latest industrial headache for the Socialist leader who has vowed to stem rising unemployment by the end of the year.

"It's difficult to find a serious buyer. We must do everything to find one," Hollande told reporters after meeting union leaders in Val-De-Reuil, a town about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north-west of Paris.

"The state will do its duty, but it cannot take the plant over, and the workers know that," he said.

He added the state could at some point provide financing.

Petroplus poses a major test for Hollande's government after it faced criticism over the tactics it used in a two-month battle over the future of ArcelorMittal's ISPA.AS Florange steel plant, which unnerved investors in the euro zone's second largest economy and confused France's unions.

His administration is struggling to stop a haemorrhage of industrial jobs which has helped push unemployment to 15-year highs, while curbing public spending and raising taxes to help slash debt in a stagnant economy.

A French court set a deadline of February 5 for interested parties to submit bids for the Petit-Couronne refinery.   Continued...

France's President Francois Hollande (C), flanked by Foreign Minister and local representative Laurent Fabius (C Rear), Val-de-Reuil's Mayor Marc-Antoine Jamet (L Rear) and French Minister for Industrial Recovery Arnaud Montebourg (R Rear), talks with Swiss Petroplus Petit-Couronne refinery workers in Val-de-Reuil, near Rouen, January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Charly Triballeau/Pool