France's Le Maire to meet Renault chairman, says Nissan alliance priority

France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire answers a question during a news conference of the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Fukuoka, Japan June 9, 2019. Toshifumi Kitamura/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday a Fiat Chrysler-Renault merger remained an “interesting opportunity” but added he would tell the French carmaker’s chairman that strengthening the Renault-Nissan alliance was the priority.

The French state is Renault’s biggest shareholder and sources have said chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is furious over the government’s interference at the carmaker after Fiat Chrysler (FCA) withdrew its offer for a 35 billion euro ($40 billion) merger with Renault.

Le Maire said he would meet Senard later on Thursday, with the chairman’s position seen weakened by the deal’s collapse and the ensuing fallout with President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

Le Maire told franceinfo radio he was not responsible for derailing the proposal that would have created the world’s third biggest carmaker behind Japan’s Toyota and Germany’s Volkswagen.

“It remains in interesting opportunity. But I have always been very clear: that it should be in the context of a strategy to reinforce the (Renault-Nissan) alliance.”

“As long as the French state is the main shareholder, its responsibility to the company, its employees, its factories and research centers is to fulfill its role with other shareholders in defining a strategy.”

The deal collapsed after Nissan said it would abstain at a Renault board meeting to vote on the merger proposal, prompting Le Maire to request the Renault board to postpone the vote for five days.

“We simply asked for five extra days. Five additional days seems entirely reasonable to me,” Le Maire said. “Fiat withdrew its offer, as it was entitled to do. But believe me, the state will never react under pressure.”

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Potter