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Mergers & Acquisitions

Hollande vows to defend French jobs amid Alstom takeover talks

President Francois Hollande has said he'll defend jobs amid Alstom takeover talks. The General Electric and Siemens bosses, who are interested in the group's energy business, have met the French leader in Paris.

Siemens interested in Alstom

Hollande held talks on Monday with GE chief Jeff Immelt, urging the safeguarding of jobs and for Alstom's decision-making center to be protected in France. Later in the day, he sat down with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser to discuss the fate of Alstom, which makes France's high-speed TGV trains and power plant turbines.

"The state will inevitably have a say" in the sale of Alstom, Hollande said, adding that the government had placed several orders with the company "in strategic sectors, especially energy."

The French president said the "sole criteria" in choosing a successful takeover bidder would be the one that "would be the best in creating more business and jobs."

Struggling company

Alstom is fighting massive debts. After first being bailed out by the French government in 2004, the company has been hit by a decline in power equipment orders since the 2008 economic downturn depressed energy prices.

The talks Monday in Paris were also part of France's efforts to protect its strategic energy interests. Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg has called the meetings a "patriotic" response to an expected bid by GE. It emerged last week the American company was in advanced talks to buy Alstom's power arm for around 10 billion euros ($14 billion).

In a counter to a potential GE-Alstom deal, Siemens over the weekend proposed exchanging part of its train business plus cash for Alstom's energy interests. Montebourg said the Siemens plan would forge "two European and global champions."

A German government spokesman said Monday a potential tie-up between Siemens and Alstom would be offer "a big opportunity and great potential in terms of industrial policy for Germany and France."

Pair of suitors

Immelt described Monday's talks with Hollande as "open, friendly and productive."

"It was important to hear in person President Hollande's perspective and to discuss our plans," he said. "We understand and value his perspective, and we are committed to working together."

However, Montebourg criticized a potential agreement in which Alstom could in three days "decide to sell 75 percent of a national jewel behind the backs of the employees, of the government, of most of the board and of the senior executives."

The problem, he told RTL radio, is that "the main part of Alstom, 75 percent of the businesses, 65,000 employees in the world, is going to be run from Connecticut."

Kaeser, meanwhile, issued a statement after Monday's talks saying he had a "very open, trustful and amicable exchange" with Hollande and Montebourg, adding the Siemens board would convene soon to decide on whether to make a takeover offer. The Reuters and AFP news agencies reported the German company was expected to confirm its offer Tuesday.

dr/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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