Brussels (AFP)

The European Commission on Friday authorized the acquisition by Alstom of the transport branch of the Canadian Bombardier, which will give birth to the world number two in rail, a year and a half after the aborted marriage of the French group with Siemens.

The new group employs (before the cessions granted to satisfy Brussels) around 76,000 employees for a turnover of 15.5 billion euros. It aims to compete with the Chinese CRRC, world number one in the sector.

"Thanks to the comprehensive set of corrective measures proposed to resolve the competition concerns in the very high speed rail, main line and main line signaling sectors, the transaction could be investigated and cleared quickly." , welcomed the Vice-President of the European Executive, Margrethe Vestager, quoted in a press release.

Alstom boss Henri Poupart-Lafarge immediately "welcomed" this decision. "A dialogue of trust has been established (with Brussels, editor's note). Is this the consequence of the difficulties of the previous file (with Siemens, editor's note) or not? I don't know", he had asserted Friday morning on France Inter.

This is "good news for the European railway industry, which must remain at the forefront of innovation", reacted the French Minister of Finance, Bruno Le Maire, who had sharply criticized the veto of the European Commission, guardian competition in the EU, the acquisition of Alstom by Siemens.

In order to make room for its rivals, Alstom had offered several commitments in Brussels, in particular the sale of its regional trains for the French market, Coradia Polyvalent, and of its production site in Reichshoffen, in Alsace, which employs 780 people.

"We are disgusted, stunned. (…) It's hard," responded Daniel Dreger, CGT delegate for the site, judging the plant "sacrificed by the financiers".

"It is Alstom who will choose the new buyer, who will be a regional competitor for it. So we are not sure that the management wants to take the best possible buyer, who is viable and solid," he explained. to AFP, recalling that there was currently no guarantee for jobs.

- Dominant position -

The group will also sell the Bombardier Talent 3 platform - self-propelled units sold in Germany and Austria - as well as the Hennigsdorf plant, north of Berlin, Germany.

Finally, it will sell Bombardier Transport's contribution in Zefiro, the high-speed train platform developed jointly with Hitachi.

"The disposals will be carried out in accordance with all the social processes in force", promised Alstom in a press release, recalling that the operation would be finalized in "the first half of 2021".

The French group had notified mid-June in Brussels of the plan to buy out its competitor Bombardier Transport for 6 billion euros.

The threat of Chinese competition had already been mentioned to justify the takeover of Alstom by Siemens, an operation blocked in February 2019 by the Commission.

Brussels feared too dominant a position in Europe in rail signaling and high-speed trains.

Alstom's activity overlaps with Bombardier were, in fact, smaller than with the German group.

Based in Berlin, Bombardier Transportation achieved 2019 sales of 8.3 billion US dollars (7 billion euros), ending the year with an order book of 35.8 billion dollars (30, 1 billion euros).

This branch of Bombardier, 32.5% owned by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), has in particular in Crespin (North) the largest railway plant in France, with 2,000 employees.

For its part, Alstom operates many smaller sites. The manufacturer ended its 2019-20 financial year (ended at the end of March) with a slight increase in turnover, to 8.2 billion euros. Its order book peaks at 40.9 billion euros.

The coronavirus crisis should have an impact on the current fiscal year, but the group believes that it has sufficient cash to cope with it.

© 2020 AFP