Sarkozy to contact Peugeot CEO over threatened plant

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 12, 2012 2:51 PM
Sarkozy to contact Peugeot CEO over threatened plant

By Emmanuel Jarry and Laurence Frost

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy weighed in on PSA Peugeot Citroen's industrial woes on Thursday, calling for a meeting with Chief Executive Philippe Varin and promising talks with unions and management over a threatened car plant.

The announcement came after unions organized a protest outside Sarkozy's campaign headquarters, 10 days before the start of presidential elections that Sarkozy is on course to lose to Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, according to opinion polls.

"I promised to get an agreement from Peugeot's management on a three-way meeting next week with Peugeot, its unions and the government," Sarkozy said after meeting leaders of the protest delegation.

"I will see the Peugeot CEO in coming days and of course keep my pledge to do everything possible to save the Aulnay site."

The Elysee Palace later said that a meeting had not yet been fixed but that "contact" would be made with Varin. It added that it was not clear whether the President himself or his advisor Xavier Musca would be speaking with Varin.

Peugeot unions led by the left wing CGT are maintaining pressure on management and Sarkozy's centre-right government over the Aulnay plant north of Paris, which was earmarked for closure in an internal company document leaked last June. The factory produces the Citroen C3 subcompact and employs 3,500 workers.

The document outlined detailed plans to shutter the plant and sell the site but cautioned that the closure could not be announced until after this year's elections. The presidential balloting takes place in two rounds on April 22 and May 6, followed by parliamentary elections in June.

CEO Varin has denied that any decision had been taken, while acknowledging that the plant's future is in doubt beyond 2014.

The Sarkozy-Varin meeting is scheduled for Saturday, union officials said after their session with the French president. A Peugeot spokesman declined to comment.

"We all know that management is waiting until after the presidential and legislative elections to announce the closure," CGT union representative Jean-Pierre Mercier said before the meeting with Sarkozy.

Paris-based Peugeot confirmed last week that it was ready to hand over more of the Aulnay site to industrial or real-estate investors as production dwindles.

The car maker is seeking tenants for 17,000 square meters (183,000 square feet) of the site in addition to the 23,000 square meters already leased, a company spokesman said, after the government pledged aid for any new investors along with renewed assurances that C3 production would be maintained until 2014.

(Editing by William Hardy, Gary Hill)