* Jeff Immelt grilling due to start at 1630 GMT
* Siemens France boss to be questioned beforehand
* GE has extended its bid, Siemens seen readying rival offer
By Andrew Callus
PARIS, May 27 General Electric boss Jeff
Immelt faces a public French parliamentary grilling in person on
Tuesday over his high-stakes plan to buy the power arm of
engineering group Alstom, replacing a subordinate at
the last minute.
A statement from the parliamentary economics committee late
on Monday put Immelt on its agenda for Tuesday's hearing, which
was scheduled originally last week with the head of GE France,
Clara Gaymard, on the stand.
Immelt is scheduled to speak in defence of his 12.35 billion
euro ($16.9 billion) bid for Alstom's power arm at 1630 GMT, an
hour after Christophe de Maistre, chairman of Siemens France
, is due to begin facing questions.
Maistre, representing the European alternative to the GE
offer, will make the case for a tie-up with the German
engineering firm. Sources have told Reuters that Siemens was
readying a formal offer under which it would transfer its rail
activities and less than 7 billion euros in cash to its French
rival in exchange for its power assets.
GE's Immelt was due in Paris anyway this week for a meeting
on Wednesday with President Francois Hollande and Economy
Minister Arnaud Montebourg.
"The committee asked the country chiefs to attend, but Jeff
is our CEO and he is running things," said a GE spokesman. "He
is in Paris anyway, so we decided he should attend. It's normal
that he should come and defend the project."
The hearing takes place after GE agreed to extend its bid
timetable by three weeks until June 23 following objections to
the deal from the French government, a letter of intent from
Siemens offering to pursue a rival proposal, and a French
government decree giving itself an effective veto on any deal.
GE sees a chance to push on with a new focus on its
engineering and industrial roots, expand its installed base of
power turbines, and increase exposure to emerging markets.
Siemens wants to head off the creation of an even more
powerful rival and grab a chance to turn Alstom from a
competitor into a part of its own power division.
Alstom, meanwhile, has heavy debts and is short of cash. It
was already rescued by the government a decade ago, amid
protests at the time by Siemens.
Analysts see the French group as lacking the critical mass
to stand alone in either of its main markets, power turbines and
rail equipment. Its top shareholder, the conglomerate Bouygues
with 29 percent, would welcome the cash from a GE deal
as it faces a costly price war in its telecoms business.
For the French government, represented frequently and
vocally by Montebourg, the concerns are strategic, and reach
deep into the nation's energy supply and power industry
interests, especially in the field of nuclear power.
With 18,000 workers in France out of a total 96,000, Alstom
is an important manufacturing employer in a country suffering
record unemployment, as well as a strong symbol of French
engineering prowess, making the iconic TGV high speed trains.
Alstom is also a main supplier of power turbines to the
utility EDF, in which the government has an 84 percent
stake and which has a near-monopoly on electricity supply in
France and is a major power producer in Britain and Italy.
Another key supplier is GE itself.
EDF uses nuclear reactors to supply more than 70 percent of
the domestic electricity consumption and is involved in
construction of new nuclear plants in China and Britain. EDF, in
turn, is the main customer of another state-controlled business,
nuclear group Areva.
($1 = 0.7325 Euros)
(Editing by Natalie Huet and Susan Thomas)