ArcelorMittal 'no longer welcome in France'

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A senior French minister said yesterday that the world's largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal was "no longer welcome" in France because it broke promises made when it bought the rump of the French steel industry six years ago.

Arnaud Montebourg, minister for productive development, said: "We no longer want Mittal in France because they haven't respected France."

His comments intensified a war of words with ArcelorMittal, whose chief executive Lakshmi Mittal, pictured, is Britain's richest man, over the company's plans to close two blast furnaces at Florange in Lorraine in eastern France.

Last week Mr Montebourg threatened to re-nationalise Arcelor, which was taken over by Mittal in 2006, unless ArcelorMittal sold all of its steel interests in Florange to one of two potential, unnamed buyers.

ArcelorMittal wants Paris to find a new owner for the blast furnaces but does not want to sell the remainder of the site.

Mr Montebourg, a left-wing minister who has sworn to reverse the erosion of France's industrial base, told the business newspaper Les Echos: "The problem with the blast furnaces at Florange is not the blast furnaces, it's Mittal."

He said that Mr Mittal had told "shameful lies" since he bought Arcelor with a promise to keep the blast furnaces open.

Mr Mittal was already due to meet President François Hollande in Paris today.

A source close to Mr Mittal said that the company's management was "very shocked" at Mr Montebourg's comments.

"These are quite violent declarations against a company which employs 20,000 people in France," the source said.

French government officials suggested that Mr Montebourg's comments were "rhetorical".

There were no plans for the government to take over the 100 ArcelorMittal sites in northern and north-eastern France, the officials said.

Florange has become a symbol of President Hollande's commitment to restoring France's declining industrial strength.

During the presidential election campaign in the spring, he gave a not quite absolute promise to save the two blast furnaces, which employ 650 people.

ArcelorMittal says that it no longer needs the furnaces but the sale of the whole of the Lorraine site would "endanger the viability" of its other activities in France.