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Mittal’s French deal at risk

Paris, Dec. 6 (Reuters): A politically charged deal between the French government and ArcelorMittal to preserve jobs at an ailing steelworks looked at risk of unravelling today after the global steel giant ditched a bid to run an EU-funded project there.

ArcelorMittal, 40-per cent owned by the Mittal family, withdrew an application to use the Florange site in northern France for an EU pilot project in less polluting steel that Paris had hoped could keep two idled blast furnaces going.

ArcelorMittal and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the move did not mean the idea of using Florange for the ULCOS “green steel” project was being permanently abandoned, nor that the deal with the French government had been undone.

But unions and local politicians reacted angrily, with metalworkers threatening to occupy the blast furnaces if the government did not revise its deal with ArcelorMittal, and other employees staging sympathy actions elsewhere. “We urge Francois Hollande: retake control of this issue,” CFDT trade union leader Edouard Martin told I>tele news television. “We’re going to occupy the factory.”

ArcelorMittal, which has been under fire for months in France over its plan to permanently shut its Florange furnaces on the grounds they are not economically viable, said it could not currently pursue the ULCOS project for technical reasons.

“(This) is perfectly coherent with what is in the agreement signed with the French government,” the company said, adding: “This in no way means the ULCOS project is being abandoned.”

Firebrand Leftist minister for industrial revival Arnaud Montebourg raised the stakes last week by declaring steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal unwelcome in France, accusing him of lying and threatening to nationalise the steelworks.

 
 
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