Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux accused Ford executives of taking a “shameful attitude” in refusing a final offer from Franco-Belgian equipment manufacturer Punch Powerglide on Monday.
French officials had hailed the improved bid lodged by the Strasbourg-based Punch-Powerglide last week, which could have allowed around half the employees to keep their jobs.
In return unions had agreed to a pay freeze and more flexible working hours. “We will make them (Ford) pay for the laid-off employees, for the clean-up of the site, and for new industrialisation efforts for the region,” Griveaux told France Info radio.
But he said the government would not try to claw back some 15 million euros ($17 million) in state aid received by Ford in recent years, as sought by Philippe Poutou, a trade union official at the site who ran for president against Emmanuel Macron in 2017.
“I understand Mr Poutou's anger… but in a state governed by the rule of law, you cannot demand that this aid be repaid,” he said.
He also ruled out nationalising the site, saying the best way forward was “to find ways to diversify the industrial activities” at the Blanquefort site in southwest France.
Ford, which announced the closure nearly a year ago, had said it did not consider Punch Powerglide's plan convincing, and unions themselves had noted the offer was not accompanied by guarantees of sufficient client orders to sustain the site over the long term.
“We are aware of the consequences this decision to halt production will have on our workers, their families and the local community,” Ford said Monday.
It said it would help laid off workers retrain to find new jobs, without providing details on how much it would spend on severance and other measures.