The battle for Alstom’s prized energy business has heated up, as the board of the French “national jewel” said it favoured an offer by US giant General Electric, while Germany’s Siemens upped its rival bid.
The US and German behemoths have been publicly vying for Alstom’s energy assets for days, in a politically sensitive battle over the French group.
France’s government, which views Alstom as a firm of national strategic importance, has waded into the bidding war, with firebrand Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg vowing to defend the “industrial interests of the nation”.
In a statement, Alstom said on Wednesday that its board, which met the previous evening, was in favour of GE’s 12.4 billion euros ($A18.60 billion) bid for its energy arm, without closing the door to other proposals.
It said it acknowledged “unanimously the strategic and industrial merits of this (GE) offer” and had decided to set up a committee to review the bid in depth by the end of May.
“It has, however, reserved the right to respond to unsolicited offers for its entire energy business and engage in discussions with bidders demonstrating a serious interest that could lead to a superior offer for Alstom,” the group added.
News the company could fall into American hands has angered some in France, including Montebourg.
“It’s not over yet,” Montebourg said on Wednesday.
“We have a few weeks ahead of us … and the government intends to use this time to defend the industrial interests of the nation.”
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls took a more conciliatory tone, telling France Inter radio that the view of the government had been taken into account over the future of what he has described as a company “of national strategic importance”.
Energy activities — which include power generation and transmission — account for about 70 per cent of Alstom’s business, but the company is better known as a railway equipment maker that manufactures France’s prized TGV high-speed trains.
French President Francois Hollande, who met the heads of GE and Siemens on Monday, is concerned mainly with safeguarding jobs at Alstom as his Socialist government battles record unemployment and declining industrial competitiveness.