Italian minister to meet ArcelorMittal with Ilva plant in balance

FILE PHOTO: Stefano Patuanelli arrives at Quirinale Presidential Palace, before being sworn in as Italy's minister of economic development, in Rome, Italy September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ciro de Luca

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Industry Minister Stefano Patuanelli said on Tuesday he would meet managers from ArcelorMittal over its struggling Ilva plant in the southern city of Taranto, amid political speculation that Europe’s largest steel factory may be closed.

The ruling coalition of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party (PD) voted on Monday to scrap immunity guarantees they had previously granted to ArcelorMittal managers over the facility, which has been implicated a string of environmental scandals.

The global steel giant has in the past threatened to shut down the plant, which employs some 8,000 workers in a region with one of the highest unemployment rates in Italy, if the legal guarantee was revoked.

“I believe there are no reasons for interrupting production,” Patuanelli said on the sidelines of a conference in Rome. “We will talk with the company on the set of choices necessary to guarantee production.”

The legal shield would have given ArcelorMittal’s managers immunity from prosecution related to a clean-up plan for the plant, which has become a symbol of the struggles of Italy’s heavy industry and the focus of intense political wrangling.

Three of Italy’s major manufacturing unions, the CGIL, CSIL and UIL, put out a joint statement warning that Monday’s vote to lift the immunity guarantees was “a serious matter that adds further uncertainty to the future of ArcelorMittal in Italy”.

The 5-Star Movement, which has a strong environmentalist platform, advocated the closure of Ilva prior to a March 2018 national election, but has since dropped its demands.

The PD has asked the government to ensure job levels are safeguarded at the plant.

The far-right League, now the main opposition party, has accused the ruling coalition of putting the plant at risk. “We will do everything to avoid layoffs,” said League leader Matteo Salvini in a statement.

Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Jan Harvey