Eurotunnel board seeks state support

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The Independent Online

Eurotunnel's new board has begun its reign at the troubled Channel Tunnel operator by seeking a meeting with French government ministers to try to negotiate new financial terms for the group.

Directors of Eurotunnel, who took up their roles last week after shareholders ousted the previous management, are understood to have asked for an audience with the transport minister Gilles de Robien. The company's new chairman, Jacques Maillot, is trying to meet Nicolas Sarkozy, France's finance minister.

The French and British governments have repeatedly said they would not give Eurotunnel, which has £6.4bn of debts, any assistance. But the new directors, who are all French, believe they can pile pressure on the French government to change its mind. Eurotunnel's difficulties have become a prominent political issue in that country.

Reports in France said aspiring politicians are also eager to be seen to be brokering a rescue deal for the company. Pierre Cardo, part of the Union Movement Populaire centre-right majority and a supporter of last week's revolt, also wants a meeting with ministers to discuss Eurotunnel's future.

The Canterbury Treaty, which created the plan to build the tunnel, said the project would be financed by private funding and banned both governments from handing over state subsidies.

But Eurotunnel's new management argues the Channel Tunnel is a public service and deserves state support. This is only one plank in their recovery programme. Nicolas Miguet, a French journalist and convicted fraudster, led a rebellion against the old board on the grounds that the company could also raise funds by forcing its banks to write off some of its debts, and by raising the access charges to the tunnel to rail operators such as Eurostar and France's SNCF.