France 'open' to temporary state control of Ford plant: Finance minister

Paris, FranceUpdated: Dec 19, 2018, 07:36 PM IST

File photo. Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

Ford last week rejected an offer for the plant, where it plans to halt production by August 2019.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday that he was open to the possibility of the state becoming temporary owner of a doomed Ford plant to prevent large-scale job losses.

Around 850 jobs are on the line at the Blanquefort plant in southwest France, which has been turning out gearboxes for Ford since 1972.

Ford last week rejected an offer for the plant, where it plans to halt production by August 2019.

That decision infuriated the French government, which has been involved in negotiations to try to find a buyer, leading Le Maire to accuse the firm of "treachery".

On Wednesday he said he was ready to consider having the state step in to keep the site open.

Asked whether the state could buy the factory from Ford and then sell it to Franco-Belgian equipment manufacturer Punch Powerglide, whose offer was spurned by the US automaker, he told BFM television: "Why not? I'm open to this kind of solution".

"I'm open to the most original solution that guarantees the survival of a successful industrial site, which has a good [potential] buyer and workers that are fully committed," he said.

The Ford plant has become another battleground between French trade unions and American multinationals seeking to pare back their French operations.

Punch Powerglide offered to take on 400 workers, with unions agreeing in return to a three-year pay freeze and flexible working hours.

But Ford's local subsidiary FAI said that it did not find Punch's business plan convincing and that it would offer workers a redundancy plan instead — a decision labelled "hostile and unacceptable" by President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Maire said he had spoken by telephone Tuesday with the head of Ford's Europe operations, Steven Armstrong, for the second time since the announcement. 

He warned that Ford risked "losing a lot in terms of reputation" in the affair.

The standoff is the first major spat between the government and a multinational since Macron, a pro-business centrist, came to power last year.

His Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande became embroiled in a drawn-out row with steel giant ArcelorMittal over the closing of a blast furnace in the eastern Lorraine region.