ROME (Reuters) – The Italian government will fight ArcelorMittal <MT.AS> in the courts if it goes back on a pledge to buy steelmaker Ilva, but Rome still hopes to avoid a bruising legal showdown, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday.
“We would all lose if there were a legal battle, but should it happen, it will be the legal battle of the century,” Conte, himself a lawyer, told state television RAI in an interview.
ArcelorMittal said this week it was withdrawing from a deal to buy Ilva, blaming its decision on a government move to scrap previous guarantees of legal immunity during a massive clean-up operation at Ilva’s huge Taranto plant.
Conte said the government was ready to restore the legal shield if that was the sticking point, but added that ArcelorMittal’s real problem was that it no longer thought its industrial plan for the company was workable.
Conte said ArcelorMittal’s managers told him on Wednesday they could not meet their production targets for Taranto and that to be financially viable they had to shed some 5,000 employees — roughly half their Italian workforce.
The prime minister said this was unacceptable, adding that he wanted to meet ArcelorMittal’s CEO in the coming hours.
“This is not a legal problem. The problem is that their industrial plan is not sustainable,” Conte said. “We are working 24 hours a day looking at all the possible options.”
Unions have called a 24-hour strike for Friday at ArcelorMittal’s various Italian operations to protest at its reported plans to cut jobs and possibly quit the country.
(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gavin Jones)