Steel giant ArcelorMittal should postpone any plant closures in Europe until June, the European Commission said on Tuesday.
Speaking at round-table discussions on the state of Europe’s steel industry, the EU’s Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani said: “We want ArcelorMittal to postpone its decision to close sites at least until the EU releases its action plan.”
The firm’s decision to close plants in Belgium, Luxembourg and France has triggered violent protests in those countries. Its loss-making steelworks in Liege are amongst those set for the axe.
Jean-Claude Marcourt, the Industry Minister for Belgium’s Wallonia region said: “For too long, Europe has abandoned its industry… we are going to put concrete measures in place to save our industry.”
But ArcelorMittal executives downplayed any suggestion of a U-turn. Weak demand for steel in Europe has led to too much overcapacity.
Unions argue that the company is to blame for its poor performance.
Nico Cué, a representative from the General Federation of Belgian Labour, said ArcelorMittal neither respects Belgian employment rules, nor basic values.
“They are trying to squeeze out as much as cash as possible so they can invest outside of Europe,” he told euronews.
At the end of January, ArcelorMittal employees staged a ‘Day of Rage’ outside the Walloon parliament in Namur in the French-speaking region of Belgium.
The firm wants to slash more than 1,000 jobs in the country.
Euronews’ Gulsum Alan said the ArcelorMittal crisis has created a shockwave as Europe is already struggling with high levels of joblessness.
The question is whether the company will agree to keep its loss-making operations open until the European Commission makes its proposals, she said.