France focuses on jobs in Alstom takeover battle

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Alstom workers worried about their jobs protested at its Paris headquarters and other plants in France on Tuesday.

As they did, it emerged that it will be some weeks before there is a decision on whether it could be taken over by German engineering firm Siemens or US conglomerate General Electric.

The French government has said its priority is jobs, and after talking with the bosses of GE and Siemens on Monday, there were meetings with the unions on Tuesday.

General Electric’s argument to the Paris government is that its bid should be preferred because it has a long history of investment in France, including 11,000 of its 305,000 employees in the country, though Siemens has 7,000 workers there out of its total of 360,000 worldwide.

Among the Alstom protesters, Cristian Garnier with the CGT trade union said he did not like either option: “Whether its the American predator or the German predator, either means the disappearance of the group, it would just disintegrate and the future would be very uncertain for the employees and for the group’s activities.”

But another, Jean-Loup Olivier with the CFE-CGC union, saw things differently: “We would rather have GE which would be better for us because the activities of both companies complement each other. Whereas with the other solution of a European company [Siemens] – which we know well – there is total competition over all of our sectors and so that would be fatal to Alstom’s activities in the short and medium term.”

The French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said Siemens will make a rival offer to GE’s.

That was confimed by the German company which said will need four weeks to do due diligence and draw up a more detailed proposal for the future of the two companies’ power and rail businesses.

The unions – who met Montebourg at the ministry in Paris on Tuesday – want guarantees of no layoffs after a takeover.

After speaking with them he gave only a curt statement to reporters: “The government will take all the necessary steps to defend the country’s interests.”

But the economy minister has a lot more to say in parliament. He railed against the head of Alstom, Patrick Kron, accusing him of keeping the negotiations with General Electric hidden even when asked. Montebourg added: “Should I have installed a lie detector in my office?”

Alstom needs a tie-up with a larger rival as it struggles with big debts and falling demand for its power generation products.

Smaller than its suitors, it was hardest hit by a slump in orders for power equipment since the 2008 economic downturn depressed electricity prices. But even before then it had to be bailed out by the French government in 2004.

with Reuters/AFP