State takeovers still an option in French industry - government

PARIS Tue Jan 8, 2013 11:22am EST

PARIS Jan 8 (Reuters) - Temporary nationalisation remains an option for the French government when companies seek to close industrial sites that it deems economically viable, Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said on Tuesday.

President Francois Hollande's eight-month-old Socialist government has so far had little success in pursuing election pledges to reverse a relentless rise in unemployment.

Montebourg - who raised eyebrows in November with a threat to nationalise a foreign-owned steelworks to save two idled furnaces - said public-private partnerships or temporary state takeovers were preferable to leaving important sites to close.

"On the issue of temporary nationalisations, the debate is open," Montebourg told a lunch with foreign media.

"Temporary nationalisation means that when you have a site that is viable and profitable it is better to maintain it, including by having private investors who lack capital team up with the state to keep (it) going for the medium or long term."

Hollande's eight-month-old Socialist government is concerned about vulnerable sites in oil refining, steelmaking and aluminium as it battles to reverse a long decline in French industry and save jobs, Montebourg said.

The minister, who has unnerved investors with his protectionist views on trade and industrial policy, said talks were still underway with global mining group Rio Tinto, which wants to sell a century-old aluminium plant in the French Alps.

The company has said it would only close the plant, which employs 431 people, if the sale process fails.

The government's standoff with steel giant ArcelorMittal over idled furnaces at its Florange plant ended with the group keeping control of the site but promising to find jobs for any of the 630 furnace workers made redundant.

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