Hollande Goes to Florange Plant to Defend Industrial Policy

French President Francois Hollande returned to the scene of one of the sharpest labor disputes of his four years in office to vaunt his interventions to save industrial jobs.

Speaking at a metals research center set up near the eastern industrial town of Florange, Hollande cited government interventions with Alstom, Peugeot and ArcelorMittal as examples where arm twisting and capital injections had paid off by saving jobs. The French government insists that ArcelorMittal has lived up to a 2014 agreement agreement to maintain jobs at the Florange site and invest in new activities in exchange for closing a furnace. A fact sheet handed out by Hollande’s office says 156 million euros of the promised 200 million euro investment has already been spent, that 629 jobs were saved, and that 100 people have been hired since the start of 2015.

“The state has played it’s role and companies have engaged,” Hollande said.
The visit is Hollande’s third to Florange as president, after he visited it as a candidate in 2012 to criticize ArcelorMittal’s plans to cut jobs. With another presidential election looming and Hollande near a record low for popularity of any French president, Hollande is seeking to defend his actions in office and offer proof to his party supporters that he is sufficiently socialist.

“Florange was a struggle that lasted, but a struggle that was resolved,” Hollande said. “Today Florange is jobs that have been saved, investments that have been made.”

Florange marked a key turning point in Hollande’s presidency in 2012 when he rebuffed Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg’s exhortations to nationalize the plant to prevent ArcelorMittal from shutting a furnace and laying off workers. Hollande went on to fire Montebourg in 2014 and today the former minister is campaigning for the Socialist Party presidential nomination in 2017.

Hollande replaced Montebourg with the more business friendly Emmanuel Macron who in turn quit last August and is now preparing what could be a more centrist challenge to Hollande in next year’s presidential election.

The controversy over Florange did lead to a new measures introduced in 2014 giving more powers to works councils and long-term shareholders in takeover battles being called the “Florange Law.” Hollande said today that the law has been used more than 100 times and has saved jobs.

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