French shipyard move "incomprehensible" says angry Italy

ROME (Reuters) - France’s decision to nationalise the STX France shipyard to prevent an Italian firm taking majority control was “grave and incomprehensible”, Rome’s economy and industry ministers said in a statement on Thursday.

Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan and Industry Minister Carlo Calenda said there was no good reason why Italy's state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri FCT.MI could not have taken a majority stake in STX France.

“Nationalism and protectionism are not an acceptable basis for establishing relations between two great European countries,” the pair said in a statement. “To work on joint projects you need reciprocal trust and respect.”

Paris announced earlier on Thursday it would nationalise STX France after Fincantieri rejected a French offer this week of 50-50 ownership. The shipyard is being sold because of the collapse of its South Korean parent.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the government had stepped in to protect the country’s strategic interests. The minister, who said the 50-50 ownership deal remained on the table, is due to travel to Rome on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Calenda and Padoan said they did not understand why a South Korean company had been allowed to buy a two-thirds stake in STX France and not an Italian firm.

“(The Fincantieri) deal guaranteed the protection of jobs in France and French know-how through a balanced system of governance in a genuinely European framework,” the two ministers wrote.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer, editing by Isla Binnie and John Stonestreet