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France offers Italy naval shipbuilding deal in shipyard purchase row
France is to propose jointly building naval vessels with Italy in renegotiating a deal to buy a huge shipyard in Brittany that Paris blocked this week with the dramatic nationalisation of the company.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire is to propose Franco-Italian cooperation on building military vessels at the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire when he meets his Italian counterpart Pier Carlo Padoan and Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda on Tuesday.
The Italians were furious when Paris nationalised the shipyard on Thursday to prevent shipbuilder Fincantieri taking a majority share in the company that owns it.
But Le Maire insists the move is temporary and he would like the deal to go through - but on a 50-50 basis as suggested by President Emmanuel Macron.
So far the Italians have rejected that offer.
Now Le Maire says he is going to suggest to "our Italian friends" that cooperation goes beyond building the massive ocean liners that are one of the yard's specialities and extends to building warships.
"Let's build a champion of the European naval industry," will be his message, he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
The nationalisation has invited comparisons with the policies of Socialist president François Mitterrand in 1981 and with the protectionist stance of left-winger Arnaud Montebourg before he resigned as economy minister in the last government.
But Le Maire rejected the parallel.
"This isn't 1981 and I'm not following in anybody's footsteps," Le Maire told the Sunday paper. "It's temporary."
The minister will have other options if negotiations with the Italians fail.
A delegation of local businesses interested in investing in the yard is to meet him on Tuesday.
If Fincantieri does go for the latest offer, STX will in a sense be nationalised, just not by France.
Fincantieri is owned by the Italian state.