(Adds fresh minister comments on Siemens)
By Natalie Huet
PARIS May 14 France's energy minister muddied
the waters over the future of engineering group Alstom
on Wednesday, eventually toeing the government line on the need
to examine a proposal from Siemens after first appearing to
favour a tie-up with General Electric.
In a magazine interview in which she also called her male
colleagues "cocksure machos", former presidential candidate
Segolene Royal said: "General Electric is a very good
opportunity for Alstom. It's the best industrial project.
"Why not say it? ... And why do we always try to scare away
foreign investment? We actually really need it."
Cash-strapped Alstom has welcomed GE's offer to buy its
power turbines and grid business for 12.35 billion euros ($16.9
billion), but the French government has weighed into the talks
in an attempt to get alternative offers.
Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg has openly criticized the
Alstom-GE deal and instead advocated a European tie-up
with Germany's Siemens. Alstom has given itself until
the end of the month to review its options.
Royal changed tack later on Wednesday, saying she had no
preference at this stage.
Siemens "has considerably improved its offer" to include a
"European project" in the areas of trains and renewable energy,
she said after a meeting between French ministers and Siemens
CEO Joe Kaeser in Paris.
"The different offers will be compared with each other, and
these offers are in the process of improving, it's a good thing
for jobs in France," she added.
A source familiar with the matter said Kaeser did not bring
any concessions to the table during Wednesday's talks.
The outspoken Royal, who is also the mother of President
Francois Hollande's four children, said in the Paris Match
magazine interview that her male colleagues treated her with
Angry with the resurgence in parliament of an environment
tax she wants to bury, Royal, who made a political comeback when
she was named minister in March, told the magazine she would not
"If they think they can muzzle me, they're mistaken," she
said. "Yes, I do speak my mind. This is my right and I will
defend it whatever happens."
For its part, GE has entered talks to sell minority stakes
in Alstom's wind and hydroelectric businesses, said a source
close to the talks on Wednesday.
When detailing GE's bid, CEO Jeff Immelt had signaled in a
letter to Hollande that the U.S. group was willing to work with
the government and to sell Alstom's wind turbine activities to
French investors. Areva has been cited in newspaper
reports as a likely buyer but has declined to comment.
A spokesman for GE France declined to comment on Royal's
comments. Alstom declined to comment beyond saying the committee
of independent directors it had set up to review the GE bid was
at work and that Siemens had still not made a formal offer.
Siemens also declined to comment.
($1 = 0.7296 Euros)
(Additional reporting by Jens Hack in Munich; Editing by Andrew
Callus and James Regan)