PARIS (Reuters) - France’s industry minister said on Thursday that the government should consider a takeover of two threatened French blast furnaces at ArcelorMittal’s ISPA.PA Florange steel plant, as it tries to prop up the country’s struggling industrial sector.
“The question ... of eventual government control, even temporary, should be seriously studied by the government,” Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg told the Senate.
The fate of the two blast furnaces, which have been out of operation since last year due to lack of demand, is a hot issue in France, where President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government is under pressure to save jobs and reverse decades of industrial decline.
On Wednesday, Montebourg told the National Assembly that the government had received two offers of interest for some of ArcelorMittal’s assets beyond the two blast furnaces at the plant near the German border.
ArcelorMittal said in October that it planned to close the two mothballed furnaces, where some 629 workers could lose their jobs.
It agreed to delay its decision to close the plant by two months until December 1 in order to give the government time to find a buyer.
Montebourg also told the Senate on Thursday that ArcelorMittal held an “astronomical” tax debt to French authorities, without specifying further, a charge the company denied.
“We currently have no tax debt with the French authorities,” wrote ArcelorMittal in a statement, adding that it complied with all applicable taxes in France.
Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey, Alexandria Sage and Phil Blenkinsop; Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Hugh Lawson