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France to nationalise STX shipyard if Italy snubs ownership deal
[PARIS] The French state said on Wednesday it would nationalise the STX France shipyard if Italy does not accept its offer to split STX's capital equally, putting down a marker on the limits of economic liberalism under new president Emmanuel Macron.
The threat raises the stakes in a standoff with Rome over the shipyard's fate, the only one in France with facilities large enough to build aircraft carriers.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said nationalisation would give the state more time to find a better shareholder deal, but even if temporary, it would mark the first major state intervention in the corporate world by Mr Macron's government which was elected on a pro-business platform.
Rome rejected on Tuesday the French proposal to split STX France's ownership with Paris, saying it wanted the Italian state-owned Fincantieri shipbuilder to have a majority stake and control of the board, an Italian Treasury source said.
Mr Le Maire said Fincantieri was welcome to invest in STX but on an equal footing with French partners and said that the Italians had until Thursday to make up their minds about the offer on the table.
"If our Italian friends say 'this deal does not work for us, we don't agree with 50/50', the state will exercise its pre-emption rights on STX," Mr Le Maire told franceinfo radio. "We will buy shares, we are majority owners and we will give ourselves time to negotiate a new shareholder pact." Under an existing pact, the French state has a pre-emption right to buy out shareholders that runs until the end of the month.
Mr Le Maire said the cost of buying out STX's other shareholders was "on a scale of tens of millions of euros rather than in the billions of euros".
The company is being sold off following the collapse of South Korean parent STX, but Fincantieri's bid has raised fears for French jobs at the Saint-Nazaire site on the Atlantic Coast, as well as for French interests.
Mr Macron decided after his election in May to review the terms of a deal under his predecessor Francois Hollande to sell a large stake in the STX France to Fincantieri.
"We are not happy with the deal negotiated by the previous government because it does not allow French shareholders to keep control of jobs, industrial capacities and regional development," Mr Le Maire said.