(Adds details, background)
PARIS, Sept 8 The head of Alstom was
summoned by the French government for an explanation on Thursday
after the company revealed plans to bring over 130 years of
trainmaking to an end at its Belfort plant in eastern France.
Alstom on Wednesday said that by 2018 it would transfer
production from Belfort, where it made its first steam
locomotives in 1880, to its plant in Reichshoffen, about 200
kilometres (124 miles) further north near the German border.
Unions have for years feared a wind-down at Belfort. Those
concerns increased in 2014 after the company's associated power
turbine-making activities in the same town were sold to
U.S.-based General Electric.
The GE deal was deeply controversial in France, fuelling
concerns about the loss of industrial power it appeared to
symbolize, and about the future of French jobs as the country's
Ahead of presidential elections in April 2017, those
concerns are still at the front of voters' minds.
As part of the GE deal, the government sought to protect the
remaining train-making business by acquiring voting control over
a 20 percent stake in the shrunken Alstom business.
In May last year, the then Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron
said he did not want to see any redundancies at the Belfort
Junior Industry Minister Christophe Sirugue, Macron's
successor, told Europe 1 radio that he and Finance and Economy
Minister Michel Sapin would meet with Alstom CEO Henri
Poupart-Lafarge "so that we can get explanations regarding this
"At this stage I consider that nothing is final," Sirugue
Some 400 workers out of Belfort's total 480 are to be
offered jobs at Alstom's other 11 French sites and the Belfort
site would be refocused on maintenance and repairs, Alstom has
said. The company employs about 9,000 people in all.
During the summer, Alstom missed out on a French
train-building contract when the state railway operator SNCF's
affiliate Akiem, a joint venture with Deutsche Bank,
awarded a contract to build 44 locomotives to the German company
Unions and local politicians have called on the government
to intervene and overturn that decision.
Alstom has been winning contracts elsewhere, but in many
cases these have involved agreements to build the trains in the
countries where the orders have been made.
(Reporting by Yann Le Guenigou, Dominique Vidalon, Andrew
Callus and Michel Rose; Editing by Leigh Thomas)