French president, GE boss to meet over Alstom future

Reuters
Road signs indicate directions for deliveries to French power and transport engineering company Alstom and US conglomerate General Electric sites in Belfort
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Road signs indicate directions for deliveries to French power and transport engineering company Alstom and U.S. conglomerate General Electric sites in Belfort, April 27, 2014. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

PARIS (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande and his Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg are set to meet with General Electric Chief Executive Jeff Immelt on Monday to discuss the future of French engineering group Alstom, a presidential official said.

The planned meeting between the French head of state and the boss of one of the world's 10 largest investor-controlled corporations follows a weekend of high political and corporate drama.

Immelt arrived in Paris to hammer out a $13 billion deal to buy Alstom's power turbines business after news of talks between the French trains-to-turbines group and the U.S. industrial and financial giant GE late last week.

His arrival coincided with political uproar over the potential loss of a national champion and the emergence of a rival proposal involving German group Siemens.

Siemens, like Alstom, makes high speed trains and other railway rolling stock as well as power station turbines, and is proposing a swap of assets that would make Alstom a more significant rail transport player while enhancing its own turbines and power grid equipment business.

Alstom needs a partner one way or another. Suffering from heavy debts and a downturn in orders, it was bailed out by the French government once already in 2004. Sources familiar with the GE-Alstom talks that came to light late last week say they have been going on for months and are very advanced.

Montebourg said the Siemens proposal would create "two European and global champions in the energy and transport domain," and warned that the government on which Alstom relies for much of its business would not accept a sale of Alstom's power business - especially the sensitive nuclear portion - "in haste".

"GE and Alstom have their calendar, which is that of shareholders, but the French government has its own, which is that of economic sovereignty," Montebourg said in a statement, providing the first official confirmation of GE's offer.

GE has declined to comment throughout. Alstom has also declined to go into detail about its discussions, but said in a statement on Sunday it would ask for a suspension of its shares until Wednesday while it considers its options. Siemens said on Sunday it had written a letter to Alstom about "strategic opportunities" but also did not go into detail.

(Reporting by Natalie Huet and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Diane Craft)

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