Thursday, December 9

Bercy helps Indian Electro Steel in Arles, to the chagrin of Lorraine

The Minister of Public Accounts Olivier Dussopt, September 22, 2021 in Paris Thomas SAMSON

The government confirmed on Tuesday that it had granted aid of 3.9 million euros to the Indian group Electro Steel, a specialist in cast iron pipes, to finance its plant in Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône), to the chagrin of elected officials and Lorraine industrialists who fear for its French competitor Pont-à-Mousson (Saint-Gobain).

“The Electro Steel group wishes to set up a site in Europe. We looked at the file and decided to allocate 3.9 million euros (…) under the recovery plan to set up this establishment with the creation of 190 jobs in Arles “declared Tuesday the Minister of Public Accounts Olivier Dussopt during the session of questions to the government of the National Assembly, in response to a question to the deputy Caroline Fiat (LFI).

In Lorraine, where the French competitor of Electro Steel, Pont-à-Mousson is located, the allocation of this aid has aroused for several weeks the anger of industrial officials, employee unions and elected representatives of Lorraine from all sides who fear for local employment.

“The pipes and products that will be created are not in competition with the products of Pont-à-Mousson” replied Mr. Dussopt, considering that it was on the contrary a project of industrial “relocation”, since the products made in France by Electro Steel would “replace those imported from India” before.

“It’s a project that will make us less dependent on imports,” he said.

He also stressed that the Saint-Gobain group had itself received 10 million euros in public aid as part of the recovery plan.

In this package, “2.5 million euros” were allocated to Pont-à-Mousson to create “the largest low-carbon electric furnace in Europe”, which will be “larger in size than that of Electrosteel”, A Bercy adviser told AFP on Tuesday evening.

The Indian group announced in June the extension of its Arles site, where it has been established since 2001, as well as a carbon-free production of pipes from European scrap deposits, by transforming them in its electric furnaces. Indian Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf visited Arles at the end of May.

The ElectroSteel plant must manufacture “between 60 to 80,000 tonnes per year, half of which for the French market, and the other for the Middle East and Africa market,” Bercy indicated on Tuesday evening.

In Lorraine, unions, employers, and elected officials are worried about the future of the historic Pont-à-Mousson factory near Nancy, which manufactures ductile iron pipes and manhole covers. It had almost been bought by the Chinese in 2019.

– “stab” –

Hervé Bauduin, president of the employers of metallurgy (UIMM) of Lorraine, wrote an open letter dated November 9 and addressed to Bruno Le Maire and Agnès Pannier-Runacher in Bercy, in which he considers that the aid attributed to Electro Steel constitutes a “stab in the back” of Lorraine.

He asks them “to postpone this implantation project”.

It would be a “suicidal economic misunderstanding” in particular because this company “would produce the same elements as Saint-Gobain PAM, whose factories are only loaded up to 50% of their capacity” estimates the person in charge in his letter.

The boss of Saint-Gobain, Benoit Bazin also took the pen to write to Bercy. The answer is “being written,” the source added to Bercy.

“We understand the importance of Pont-à-Mousson and the emblematic role of the factory for the industrial fabric in Lorraine” underlined an adviser from the Ministry of Industry on Tuesday evening.

“But if France had not supported them for their establishment, Electro Steel would have established itself in Europe anyway, probably in a low-cost country: We would not have had the jobs, but we would have had competition” a justified the advise.

According to him, the Indian industrialist made the decision to manufacture in Europe to escape the customs barriers put in place by Europe.

In addition, he said, “under European rules, we cannot use state aid to discriminate against a company for the benefit of a historical player”.

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