Paris, 20 May 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The French government said on Wednesday that it would be “intransigent” about keeping carmaker Renault’s industrial presence in France, after reports of a plan to close four factories.
But Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was less categoric about the fate of the biggest of the threatened factories, which employs more than 2,600 people in Flins near Paris.
The Flins plant should be kept open “if at all possible,” the premier told the Senate in Paris.
Newspaper Le Canard Enchaine first reported that the company was planning to close four of its 13 French factories, amid a global shock to the auto industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Renault declined to comment on the report, but trade unions and the opposition have reacted angrily, noting that the government recently promised the carmaker loan guarantees of 5 billion euros (5.5 billion dollars) to help it weather the crisis.
It would be “a big problem” if that emergency aid was used for a restructuring plan, the head of the CGT trade union, Philippe Martinez, told RTL radio.
The closures would be “unthinkable” at a time when difficulties importing health supplies have seen the government stress the need for French-based industry, Martinez said.
Outside the Flins factory, a trade unionist told BFMTV television that they would “fight as [they] have always done so that Flins continues to produce vehicles.”
There had been no official denial of the Canard Enchaine report so workers “are still facing uncertainty,” trade unionist Frederic Gehan said.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement the government should use its position as Renault’s biggest shareholder – it has a 15.01-per-cent stake – to make sure the brunt of any restructuring falls on the company’s overseas sites.
Philippe said Renault had to ensure it was competitive, “because you cannot survive long in the car business without being competitive.”
He said he could not comment in detail on a plan “that has not yet been presented, and has probably not yet been finalized.”
But the premier said the government would “strongly insist that France must remain Renault’s global centre, for engineering, innovation, research and development.”
According to government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye, the government will present a general plan for the automotive industry next week.
Renault posted a net loss of 141 million euros earlier this year, down from 3.3 billion euros profit in 2018.
Its income was hit by a big fall in contributions from Japanese partner firm Nissan and joint ventures in China, as well as a 3.4 per cent decline in unit sales.
The firm has had a turbulent 18 months since its longstanding boss Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Japan in late 2018 on charges of financial misconduct at Nissan, which he also headed prior to that.
Ghosn, who has denied any wrongdoing, subsequently fled to Lebanon.