Employees of the Ascoval steelworks, in 2018. - FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP
The Ascoval steel plant seems to have finally come out of the crisis, after years of uncertainties and painful twists and turns. Bercy validates its takeover by a Briton, Liberty Steel, in common with the Hayange rail factory, and thus concludes an interminable industrial soap opera. "It is the epilogue of a long soap opera", summarized Bruno Le Maire.
Bruno Le Maire and Agnès Pannier-Runacher, respectively Minister of the Economy and Minister Delegate in charge of Industry, “have given their agreement,” Bercy told AFP Thursday evening, confirming information from Figaro . The announcement, which must be formalized this Friday, marks, a priori, the conclusion of several years of uncertainties for the Ascoval site, based in Saint-Saulve (North), which was threatened with closure by the bankruptcy of its main shareholder.
Between failure and hope
This has been one of the main industrial issues since the start of Emmanuel Macron's five-year term, with many twists and turns and as many disillusions for his nearly 300 employees. At the end of 2018, they had found hope for the first time with a takeover offer by the Franco-Belgian Altifort. Validated by justice and supported by the president of the Hauts-de-France region, Xavier Bertrand, the operation was no longer in doubt.
But to everyone's surprise, the project failed a few months later for lack of sufficient funds. Altifort has since been in receivership. A few months later, new hope: the Briton British Steel took over the factory. But, in turn, the group went bankrupt soon after. Admittedly, this procedure only concerned its British activities and a priori did not affect Ascoval. But she had rekindled the uncertainties about the future.
ArcelorMittal offer refused
From now on, it is another British, Liberty Steel, which must take over the steelworks alongside another property of British Steel, the Hayange rail factory in Moselle. Officially called France Rail Industriel, it is SNCF's main supplier of rails and has a little over 400 employees.
Above all, it is considered "strategic" by the state. This is why he had to give his approval to its acquisition by a foreign group. Bercy wanted to combine the two sites, a logical partnership since the Hayange plant is already one of Ascoval's main customers, with tens of thousands of tonnes of steel up for grabs each year.
Liberty Steel's offer was not the only one linking the two sites. The Chinese Jingye, who had himself bought British Steel, had tried his luck and obtained the preference of the unions. The ArcelorMittal group also applied for the two factories. But it aroused a lot of concerns among Ascoval employees, for whom this steel giant already had plenty of material to produce steel and risked directing their site to an announced death.
It is finally for a third offer, that of Liberty, that justice had decided at the end of July. All that remained was to obtain Bercy's approval for this project which promises to maintain jobs and production. In Le Figaro, Bruno Le Maire sees it as “a symbol of French industrial reconquest”. From now on, "we will follow the orders very closely and we will see if things start again on the right foot," he warned.
Ascoval: "Considering the worst is what allows me to sleep" ... Employees between hopes and disillusions
Ascoval: British Steel will meet with employees of the Saint-Saulve steelworks next week