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France warns Italy over shipyard row

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire during his visit to STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire on 31 May 2017.
French economy minister Bruno Le Maire during his visit to STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire on 31 May 2017. Reuters/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

France is ready to seek other buyers for its biggest shipyard STX should Italy turn down an offer to split ownership 50-50, the country's economy minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday 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 the AFP news agency just hours before their meeting that Finantieri "must have at least over 50 per cent".

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 François 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, Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to renegotiate and France has since been pushing for a 50-50 split between Fincantieri and STX's French shareholders -- a proposal rebuffed by Italy.

The shipyard, located in the western port of Saint-Nazaire, 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 Tuesday's meeting, 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 per cent stake, but Paris has refused to let Rome hold a 51 per cent 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".

- with AFP

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