BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The government of Belgium’s Wallonia region is considering whether to nationalize ArcelorMittal’s ISPA.AS steelworks in Liege, in an echo of a French plan that caused a stand-off with the world’s largest steelmaker last year.
ArcelorMittal said in January it would shut most facilities at the Liege site with the likely loss of around 1,300 jobs due to weakening demand for steel in Europe.
“It’s a measure that exists (in some countries). When the general interest is impacted, countries can take over major sites that put the economy of a country in peril,” said a spokesman for the region’s economy minister Jean-Claude Marcourt.
He said the Walloon government would examine whether to pass a law to nationalize the site, although it could be several months before such legislation is enacted.
A taskforce set up by Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo in January was examining the future of the plant and a Qatari investment fund had expressed an interest, according to the government spokesman.
ArcelorMittal declined to comment.
When ArcelorMittal said last year it would close two blast furnaces at its site in Florange, French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said the government could nationalize the whole site on a temporary basis until a buyer was found.
A dispute rumbled on for weeks until France dropped its threat after agreeing a deal with the company.
The town of Seraing, beside Liege where the plant is located, said it had received an email from ArcelorMittal on Monday requesting a meeting to discuss demolishing the site’s blast furnaces.
It expressed surprise, saying the future of the site had not yet been settled.
An ArcelorMittal spokesman said the company had merely wanted to discuss changes to a law that could have had an impact on the plan already submitted in January.
Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Tom Pfeiffer