* Siemens to submit rail-power asset swap offer by June 16
* GE considering rail signalling tie-up controlled by France
* Both groups say will make commitments on French jobs
(Recasts with GE and Siemens making their case for Alstom deal)
By Natalie Huet and Benjamin Mallet
PARIS, May 27 General Electric and
Siemens defended rival proposals to buy the power arm of Alstom
on Tuesday, both assuring France that its prized
engineering firm would emerge strengthened, including in its
remaining transport business.
Top executives for both groups told lawmakers their plans
were good for Alstom, for France and its jobs, as they strived
to address government concerns over the fate of the once
bailed-out company and the nation's wider industrial footprint.
During a parliamentary hearing, the chairman of Siemens
France, Christophe de Maistre, said the German group hoped to
submit by June 16 at the latest a formal asset swap offer that
would create two European industry champions, one in power
around Siemens, the other in rail around Alstom.
GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, meanwhile, spoke in defence
of his group's 12.35 billion euro ($16.9 billion) bid for
Alstom's power arm. He said GE would make detailed commitments
to increase jobs in France, including by opening new sites, and
was also considering a tie-up in rail signalling that would give
Alstom control of that business.
The French government has said it wanted better offers that
would preserve jobs as well as the country's energy
independence. Alstom is a supplier of turbines for nuclear
plants worldwide, and Paris is concerned that a straight sale of
its power arm could hurt France's position in the energy sector.
The government is also worried that Alstom, which makes
France's iconic TGV high-speed trains and was bailed out a
decade ago, would be too weak as a standalone rail group.
Tuesday's parliamentary hearing took place after GE agreed
to extend its bid timetable by three weeks until June 23 at the
government's request, 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.
Siemens is interested in all of Alstom's power assets,
except those France would see as essential to its energy
independence, de Maistre told lawmakers.
Sources familiar with the Siemens proposal told Reuters that
it would ring-fence Alstom's steam turbines used in nuclear
plants, as Paris fears that having these fall under U.S. control
could jeopardise France's exports in the atomic power industry.
Siemens would meanwhile hand Alstom all of its trains
business, creating a bigger transport group that would be
majority owned by France and would have its headquarters there.
In rail signalling, Siemens would offer to take over Alstom's
business but set up the headquarters of that unit in France.
De Maistre noted that a tie-up between Alstom and Siemens in
transport would give the business the critical mass Alstom
needed in that sector, putting it on an equal footing with
China's CNR and CSR and ahead of Canada's Bombardier.
For his part, Immelt strived to convince lawmakers that a
straight sale of Alstom's power turbines and grid business would
not cause the French company to disappear, absorbed by GE, but
would make it stronger as a whole and on a global stage.
"Alstom will not disappear. Through our industrial project
France will have more influence in the global power business
than you do today," he said.
GE had already said it was talking with French investors
about potential ventures in Alstom's offshore wind and hydro
power assets and that it was looking to address French concerns
over its nuclear-related assets. The talks are ongoing, "open
and constructive", Immelt said.
In transport, he said GE was now in talks with the
government and Alstom over a deal combining both group's
signalling assets and handing Alstom control of the business.
"Alstom Transport would have the size, technology and
financial strength to measure up to rivals such as Bombardier,
Ansaldo and Siemens," Immelt said.
($1 = 0.7325 Euros)
(Editing by David Evans)