Published: 13 Dec 2012 10:49 GMT+01:00 | Print version
Updated: 13 Dec 2012 10:49 GMT+01:00
ArcelorMittal chief Lakshmi Mittal has lashed out at French minister Arnaud Montebourg, accusing him of making "irrational" comments and said talk of nationalization of industry was "a setback".
The Indian-born tycoon was speaking in defence of a last-ditch deal with France's Socialist government, which will see ArcelorMittal keep 629 jobs and invest at least €180 million ($234 million) over five years at a plant at Florange in northern France, which it had previously planned to close.
In the runup to the deal, French authorities had threatened to nationalize the Florange site, sparking indignation in business circles.
Leading the charge was France's Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg, regarded as a loose cannon and protectionist by critics, who had even said he did not want the likes of Mittal in France before backtracking.
"The whole world was surprised," Mittal said. "I have never heard such irrational remarks from a minister."
"If today, a country like France, the world's fifth largest economy, speaks of nationalization it's a real setback," he said. "I was shocked and even saddened by the comments about me.
"These kind of threats will make an investor maybe think twice before putting his money in France."
He also dismissed a demand by some members of the government that the sword of nationalisation should be kept dangling for Mittal to keep his end of the bargain.
"No threat is necessary for us to keep our promises and the government is welcome to check that out."
But Montebourg, who has spearheaded a "Made in France" campaign to kickstart the flagging economy and improve the poor competitiveness of French businesses, well below the European average, on Wednesday attacked "predatory" Asian business practices.
Montebourg said that while France was "open to hosting all long-term projects, we would just as much protect the European economy from the excesses of a predatory economy," referring to Asia.
Mittal defended the latest agreement over the fate of two blast furnaces that ArcelorMittal had said were no longer viable at a plant in Florange in northeastern France:
"Yes it was a fair agreement," Mittal told Le Figaro newspaper, in his first interview on the row.
"It is in the interest of all concerned parties – our 20,000 employees (in France), our clients and our shareholders," he said in remarks translated into French.
The French government and the steelmaker had been waging high-stakes brinkmanship for weeks over the fate of the two facilities.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reached an eleventh-hour deal with the world's top steelmaker in which the fate of the furnaces was tied to a decision on an EU carbon capture project.
But unions have denounced the company's announcement as a trick and that it was ditching its bid to run an EU-funded "green steel" project at Florange due to technical difficulties.
The ULCOS project was regarded as crucial to reviving the idled furnaces.
Mittal dismissed criticism by unions that the deal was a sell-out to his group.
"We have undertaken many unconditional commitments," he said. "There will be no sackings" and the investment pledged would be fulfilled.
About ULCOS, he said: "Sadly, it is not yet technologically ready. We cannot launch this project if its success is not guaranteed. We have therefore demanded more time, we still have six more years."
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