France meets Alstom bidders with pledge to protect jobs

Mon Apr 28, 2014 4:54pm EDT
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By Natalie Huet and Benjamin Mallet

PARIS (Reuters) - France said it would defend jobs and its national interest as it met suitors eyeing a breakup of engineering group Alstom on Monday and suggested it preferred Germany's Siemens over U.S. giant General Electric.

President Francois Hollande held talks with GE boss Jeff Immelt on Monday morning and sat down later with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser to discuss the fate of Alstom, the maker of the country's prestigious TGV high-speed trains and turbines for power plants.

"We won't let Alstom sell this national champion behind the back of its shareholders, its employees and the French government," Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg wrote on his official Twitter account before the meetings started, accusing Alstom's CEO Patrick Kron of "a breach of national ethics".

Alstom, which is battling with big debts and falling demand, was bailed out by the French government in 2004 but now needs help again. Smaller than its suitors, it was hardest hit by a slump in orders for power equipment since the 2008 economic downturn depressed electricity prices.

Monday's meetings follow a weekend of drama when Alstom's German rival Siemens proposed exchanging part of its train business plus cash for Alstom's power arm to counter a potential Alstom-GE energy tie-up. Montebourg said the Siemens plan would create "two European and global champions".

Berlin weighed in on Monday morning, saying an Alstom-Siemens deal could offer "great opportunities" for Franco-German cooperation.

Siemens also re-confirmed its interest in an Alstom deal.

After GE CEO Immelt emerged from talks at the presidential palace late on Monday morning, the company issued a statement calling the dialogue "open, friendly and productive".   Continued...

General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt (L) and Clara Gaymard, the head of GE France, arrive for a meeting with France's President Francois Hollande to discuss the future of French engineering group Alstom at the Elysee Palace in Paris, April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer