French revolution is back, London mayor claims after ArcelorMittal nationalisation threat

Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

London mayor Boris Johnson on Tuesday claimed that revolutionaries have taken over the government of France after a French minister told steel giant ArcelorMittal it was no longer welcome here in a row over the closure of a steel furnace.


Company boss Lakshmi Mittal was to meet President François Hollande lateTuesday afternoon as the row over the closure rolled on.

On Monday French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg said he did not want the company in France any more because it had not respected its commitments.

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He was responding to ArcelorMittal’s threat to close its entire French operation, at a cost of 20,000 jobs, if the government nationalised its site at Florange in eastern France.

Johnson, who is on a trip to attract investment to India, said he was amazed by Montebourg’s statement.

"I see the sans-culottes appear to have captured the government in Paris,” he said in a reference to the poor Parisians who were the vanguard of the 1789 French revolution. “The French minister has been so eccentric to call for a massive investment to depart from France.

"I have no hesitation in saying here, 'Venez à Londres, mes amis!' (Come to London, my friends)," he told a meeting of business leaders in the capital New Delhi. "Come to the business capital of the world."

No steel furnaces are known to be on the market in the UK capital at present.

Johnson went on to claim that Anish Kapoor’s giant steel sculpture, built by ArcelorMittal for the London Olympics, was a symbol of friendship between London and India.

Although its boss Lakshmi Mittal, who ranks 21st on the Forbes world’s richest list, is Indian, ArcelorMittal is headquartered in Luxembourg.

In October Johnson told the French “not since 1789 has there been such tyranny in France” and followed UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s example in appealing to French people to flee to London to escape the Socialist government’s 75 per cent tax rate on incomes over a million euros.

The French government claims to have had two offers for the Florange site but on condition that the steel-rolling mill, which ArcelorMittal wishes to keep, is included.

The company’s refusal to let that part of the operation go led Montebourg to threaten to nationalise it temporarily.

Earlier this month he claimed that the company has an “astronomic” unpaid tax bill in France, a charge the company denied, and has since accused it of breaking promises made when India’s Mittal Steel merged with European steelmaker Arcelor in 2006.

At that time the group promised the French government to invest in its French sites and to reverse Arcelor’s plan to close Florange and another site at Liège in Belgium, which is also now threatened with closure.

Right-wing MP Henri Guaino, who was an adviser to former president Nicolas Sarkozy, on Tuesday said that Montebourg was “basically right” to envisage nationalisation and confirmed that the company had promised to keep steelmaking going in Europe.

Nowadays, “you get the feeling that, on the contrary, the group is dismantling European steelmaking bit by bit so as to concentrate on its mining activities, which earn a lot more”, he said.

ArecelorMittal lost 548 million euros in the third quarter of 2012, largely due to decline in European steel demand, compared to a profit of 509 million euros a year ago.

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