France warns unyield­ing Italy over ship­yard row

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

France is ready to seek other buy­ers for its big­gest ship­yard should Italy turn down an of­fer to split own­er­ship 5050, the coun­try’s econ­omy min­is­ter said yes­ter­day ahead of a meet­ing in Rome.

“If the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Fin­cantieri don’t go well,” Bruno Le Maire said in ref­er­ence to the Ital­ian state-owned ship­builder, “we will be forced to con­sider other op­tions, but I hope that won’t be nec­es­sary”. “We are sis­ter na­tions, we want to work hand in hand with Italy,” Le Maire in­sisted in an in­ter­view with the Cor­riere della Sera daily ahead of talks with Italy’s econ­omy and eco­nomic development min­is­ters.

But Ital­ian Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pier Carlo Padoan told AFP just hours be­fore their meet­ing that Fi­nantieri “must have at least over 50 per­cent”.

The French gov­ern­ment sparked a row with Italy last week by tem­po­rar­ily na­tion­al­is­ing the STX ship­yard after back­slid­ing on a deal with Fin­cantieri agreed by then French pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande in April. The deal gave Fin­cantieri a con­trol­ling stake in the fa­cil­ity in re­turn for which the Ital­ian com­pany gave job guar­an­tees.

But on tak­ing of­fice in May cen­trist Em­manuel Macron said he wanted to rene­go­ti­ate and France has since been push­ing for a 50-50 split be­tween Fin­cantieri and STX’s French share­hold­ersa pro­posal re­buffed by Italy. The ship­yard, lo­cated in the western port of Sain­tNazaire, has turned out some of the world’s big­gest cruise lin­ers and also builds war­ships.

‘De­fend our in­ter­ests’

“None of our de­ci­sions are anti-Ital­ian, they are driven by le­git­i­mate con­cerns over two points,” Le Maire said. The first is job pro­tec­tion, the sec­ond is keep­ing ship­build­ing skills in France rather than out­sourc­ing to China. Padoan said the gov­ern­ment and Fin­cantieri “have given all guar­an­tees in terms of pro­tect­ing jobs and tech­nolo­gies”. On the eve of yes­ter­day’s meet, Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Paolo Gen­tiloni said Rome would not be pushed around. “Let’s see if any fresh pro­pos­als are forth­com­ing. Col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween friends, be­tween Euro­pean coun­tries, is cer­tainly im­por­tant. We will de­fend Ital­ian in­ter­ests calmly but firmly,” he said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view.

Italy has made much of the fact that South Korea’s STX Ship­build­ing-the out­go­ing own­ers-held a 66 per­cent stake, but Paris has re­fused to let Rome hold a 51 per­cent stake. Italy’s frus­tra­tion “is un­der­stand­able, but the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion was com­pletely dif­fer­ent. The ship­yard was in se­ri­ous dif­fi­culty, now it is prof­itable and has 11 years of or­ders lined up,” Le Maire said. The French min­is­ter said Fin­cantieri may not have a ma­jor­ity stake, but it would ef­fec­tively man­age the com­pany. But Padoan said that was not good enough, and Italy “should have at least more than 50 per­cent, con­sid­er­ing that the Kore­ans had two-thirds”. — AFP

Pier Carlo Padoan

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