How to reverse decades of industrial decline is at the top of the political agenda for both France and Italy.
The furore surrounding ArcelorMittal’s decision to close two of its furnaces in Florange shows the strength of feeling in France over jobs in steel.
Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg first said the company could leave the country and then backtracked.
Montebourg said: “The way the Mittal group goes about things is unacceptable. Its methods are the same in Belgium, Luxembourg and France. But of course Mittal’s industrial presence in France is unquestionable.”
While steelworkers on edge gathered outside the French lower house of parliament, the head of the employers’ federation said the government’s audacity in suggesting it nationalise Mittal was shocking.
Laurence Parisot said: “If these remarks are simply meant to bring pressure, to blackmail in the framework of a negotiation, they are totally out of order.”
In Italy, Taranto, in the south, a freak tornado struck Europe’s biggest steel plant on Wednesday, as if to highlight the political-economic storm it is in.
A court order to close the Ilva mill this week after many years of pollution and cancer complaints at the region’s biggest employer, where jobs are scarce and the economy stagnant, triggered more workers’ protests, a sit-in at the factory and a demonstration at another Ilva factory in Genoa, in the north, to show solidarity with the south.
An employee of 23 years said: “We want to safeguard our workplace. They are taking it away from us. The big pollution problems are not our doing. They come from high up. But in the meantime we are losing our jobs.”
The case has proved a stiff challenge for Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, as his government tries to balance concern for health with pro-growth policies, to pull his country out of a long recession.
President François Hollande must also clarify how he intends to save France’s jobs and economy.
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