Paris - The view over the Seine is splendid. “Giuseppe Bono knows these offices very well,” Christophe Sirugue stated from his desk. Sirugue, the French Secretary of State for Industry, has found the STX France dossier in his hands. Seoul has decided to sell its subsidiary to Fincantieri. But C.E.O. Bono must deal with the French state as it holds 33% of the capital. “Bono will return next week. We must set the date. It’s not easy: he is a globetrotter.” With solid experience, Sirugue is a socialist of the pure school.
Are you pleased to have to deal with Fincantieri?
“From the beginning, we preferred to be acquired by an industrial group, preferably a European one. Fincantieri is a recognised giant [in the sector].” They want to acquire the remaining 67% of the capital: do you also have no problem with this? “No, we want it to remain under 50%.”
Why is that?
“Fincantieri is in direct competition with STX. There are dangers of synergy that could weaken the Saint Nazaire shipyards.”
What does this mean?
“The naval sector is extremely cyclical. Today there are orders to keep Saint Nazaire busy until 2026. But cruise ships can’t be sold like this ad inifinitum. Look, if there were a stasis, Saint Nazaire should not be the victim: we want guarantees that there will not be transfers of business to Italian and other foreign ports.” Which means what exactly? “Fincantieri must not hold the majority.”
It was all right for the Koreans to hold 67%, but not the Italians?
“When STX took control, the company was almost moribund. It was already so much so that there were investors interested. Now it is different, the company is doing very well. Then the Koreans were present in the Asian market, there was no competition between us.”
Do you have a grudge against Italians?
“It’s not true. In fact, we suggested that another Italian investor enter into the capital together with Fincantieri and that the two of them account for 50% of the capital. As long as it was a private investor. Look, for us nationality is not a problem.”
Do you have other requirements?
“Yes, we want DCNS, the French Military shipyard, which is publicly owned, to take a stake in the capital of STX France. The State has a 33% stake, but with DCNS, which is publicly controlled, we don’t want them to have even 50%.”
Why is that?
“We don’t want to nationalise STX France. It should be an industrialist to establish the strategic plan and handle the management. And this could be Fincantieri.” In Paris there are rumours that the hypothetical additional Italian investor could be MSC, the cruise line. And that its competitor Royal Caribbean could jump on the bandwagon... “I cannot “bless” new alliances. But it would be interesting to hear from Fincantieri about whether it wants to bring in two groups that operate cruises and under what conditions. They are STX France’s two most important clients.”
You know that in Italy your requirements are compared to the French groups, Bolloré and Lactalis, which have come to Italy and now do whatever they want?
“I know that in Italy the context is difficult because of the debates around certain French investors. But this isn’t why our plan must fail. I just visited two plants that belong to Italian companies in France, Ferrero and Chiesi. They make major investments here: [and] they’re happy about it. Well, if we associate the Saint Nazaire shipyards with the productive power of Fincantieri, we will create a European giant. The fifth largest in the world. In any case, I would like to say something in particular.”
“If today the health of STX France is quite good, it is due to the fact that the French State doubled down on the dossier and invested in this shipyard when it was having difficulties. And now we want to say our piece, because there are 7,000 direct and indirect jobs at play in the area.”
What do the unions of Saint Nazaire, which are famous for being unyielding, think about the possible arrival of the Italians?
“They are asking questions, but they aren’t hostile to Fincantieri. They want the group’s management to explain the industrial plan to them. It’s true, there are rules to be followed during negotiations, but if Fincantieri sent a clear message to the unions, it would help everyone.”
And what will happen if you don’t come to an agreement with Bono and his team?
“The commercial court of Seoul could start the procedure over again from the beginning and decide to sell the group in its entirety, without breaking up STX France. We are against that possibility. We have a minority block and a veto that we can activate against foreign investors. But all this means nothing now. We want to come to an agreement with Fincantieri. We believe in this.”