ArcelorMittal chief Lakshmi Mittal yesterday vowed to keep all his commitments on a French steel plant that Paris had threatened to nationalize, a move he said had created ripples worldwide.
The Indian-born tycoon defended “as fair” a last-ditch deal with France’s Socialist government in which ArcelorMittal would keep 629 jobs and invest at least 180 million euros (US$234 million) over five years at the plant.
“Yes, it was a fair agreement,” Mittal told Le Figaro newspaper, in his first interview on the row over the fate of two blast furnaces that ArcelorMittal had said were no longer viable at a plant in Florange in northeastern France.
“It is in the interest of all concerned parties — our 20,000 employees [in France], our clients and our shareholders,” he said in remarks translated into French.
The French government and the steelmaker had been waging high-stakes brinkmanship for weeks over the fate of the two facilities.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reached an eleventh-hour deal with the world’s top steelmaker in which the fate of the furnaces was tied to a decision on an EU carbon capture project.
However, unions have denounced the company’s announcement as a trick and that it was ditching its bid to run an EU-funded “green steel” project at Florange due to technical difficulties.
The ULCOS project was regarded as crucial to reviving the idled furnaces.
Mittal dismissed criticism by unions that the deal was a sell-out to his group.
“We have undertaken many unconditional commitments,” he said. “There will be no sackings” and the investment pledged would be fulfilled.
About ULCOS, he said: “Sadly, it is not yet technologically ready. We cannot launch this project if its success is not guaranteed. We have therefore demanded more time. We still have six more years.”
In the runup to the deal, French authorities had threatened to nationalize the Florange site, sparking indignation in business circles.
Leading the charge was French Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg, regarded as a loose cannon and protectionist by critics, who had even said he did not want the likes of Mittal in France before backtracking.
“The whole world was surprised,” Mittal said. “I have never heard such irrational remarks from a minister.”
“If today, a country like France, the world’s fifth-largest economy, speaks of nationalization, it’s a real setback,” he said. “I was shocked and even saddened by the comments about me.
“These kind of threats will make an investor maybe think twice before putting his money in France,” he said.