May 21, 2018 / 4:01 PM / in a year

Italy's 5-Star meets steel unions on Ilva plant it eventually wants shut

ROME, May 21 (Reuters) - A prominent 5-Star Movement lawmaker met unions at Italy’s Ilva steel plant on Monday, saying afterward he had made headway toward a solution for the factory - due to be bought by ArcelorMittal with several thousand job losses - which his party wants eventually to close.

“We held an informal dialogue with Ilva’s unions to come up with a shared path toward long-term solutions for what has become an economic, environmental and health disaster,” Fioramonti said on Twitter.

Lorenzo Fioramonti was 5-Star’s proposed Industry Minister before the March 4 vote, which ended in a hung parliament.

On Monday, 5-Star and the far-right League were poised to propose a prime minister to Italy’s president, a move that could open the way for a coalition government to be installed as early as this week.

The Fim-Cisl union was sceptical about the value of Monday’s talks. “For years we’ve heard talk about alternatives to steel in Taranto,” it said in a statement, adding that 5-Star had “seemed generic and vague and they didn’t give details”.

Fioramonti confirmed that the prospective coalition government wants to “close and reconvert” the plant, “not this year, but not in 20 or 30 years either”.

Ilva, based in the city of Taranto in Italy’s heel, is Europe’s largest steel plant. It has been dogged by charges of corruption and environmental crime for years - charges that it denies.

In 2012, Italian authorities ruled that emissions from the plant had caused deaths, tumours and respiratory diseases. The state took full control in 2015 and about half Ilva’s annual 11 million-tonne capacity was eventually mothballed.

ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, won European Union antitrust clearance to acquire Ilva this month, including two smaller sites in northern Italy, after promising to sell a string of businesses across Europe.

ArcelorMittal reached a 1.8-billion-euro ($2.1 billion) deal to buy Ilva last June, and plans to invest another 2.4 billion euros cleaning up and modernising the plant, as well as cutting 5,500 jobs.

The steelmaker was seeking to close its purchase by the end of June, but unions have opposed the deal because they wanted the company to reduce planned layoffs by 2,000. ArcelorMittal was not immediately able to comment on Monday.

European steel prices ST-MBEDSHRC-MB have risen some 90 percent since hitting their lowest in more than a decade in December 2015, at the height of the global steel sector crisis. (Additional reporting by Vincenzo Damiani in Bari, Stefano Bernabei in Rome and Maytaal Angel in London, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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