Paris (AFP)

It will be no, for now.

Engie on Thursday declined the offer made by Veolia to buy back its stake in Suez, while the government is delaying, anxious to avoid possible social consequences.

The board of directors of the energy group, meeting on Thursday, "considered that Veolia's offer was not acceptable as it is", asking it to raise it and provide additional guarantees "on the quality of the project and respect for stakeholders ".

The door to negotiation is therefore open: Veolia on Thursday "reaffirmed its desire that its offer take into consideration all stakeholders, with in particular the guarantee of jobs and social benefits, the participation of all shareholders in the project ", we explain within the group.

The world leader in environmental services offered Engie at the end of August to buy back its 29.9% stake in Suez, for 2.9 billion euros, in order to then enter into a takeover bid on the remaining shares of its company. old rival.

He gave her until September 30 to respond.

Earlier Thursday, the Minister of the Economy Bruno le Maire had hinted that the State, Engie's reference shareholder, did not intend to hurry to give his blank check to Veolia's offer.

The state "will refuse the haste" to take a stand, he warned on Cnews, citing "tens of thousands of jobs" at stake. Suez employs some 90,000 workers worldwide, including 30,000 in France.

"The state, in this case, made no choice," he added.

Philippe Varin, president of Suez, also wishes to avoid any rush on the file.

"It will take + the necessary time + and examine + all the proposals with impartiality + by considering, in the criteria for evaluating the bids, the interest of all the stakeholders," he told AFP.

Veolia CEO Antoine Frérot, for his part, aims to create the "French world super champion" in environmental services.

However, the anti-trust legislation implies that the future group will sell the Eau de Suez activity in France.

Veolia has already planned to sell it to the Meridiam fund, which ensures that it will not proceed with any layoffs and will invest an additional 800 million euros over 5 to 7 years.

- Alternative offer?


The leaders of Suez vigorously reject this operation and Thursday evening the deputy general manager of the group, Jean-Marc Boursier, blasted Meridiam who would have according to him "neither the skills nor the capacities to manage an asset of this size".

"Meridiam is a respectable infrastructure fund, but not a water industrialist," he added in an interview with Les Echos.

Suez is trying to set up an alternative project with other investors, denouncing a project "aberrant" for competition, employment (4,000 job losses are mentioned by Suez), and generator of paralysis.

The group is highlighting its industrial plan, which should enable it to overtake its rival by 2030 by making the group a specialist in high added value activities.

Wednesday evening, Philippe Varin and his general manager Bertrand Camus were received by Bruno Le Maire, at his request.

"I told them, + if you have an alternative proposal, work on your proposal. It will have to meet, like that of Veolia, the conditions that we have set with the Prime Minister: the preservation of jobs, a French majority and industrial development in France + ", the minister said on Thursday.

"Then the Board of Directors of Engie will decide on these offers and I repeat, the State will show fairness and impartiality", underlined the minister.

The board of directors of Engie said Thursday he was "open to any alternative offer", especially from Suez.

But "to date, no alternative offer has reached Engie," he said.

Surrounded by bankers and lawyers, Suez is looking for investors and potential partners, such as the Antin fund or employee shareholders, have expressed their interest.

The issue is eminently political in France, where Veolia and Suez share a large part of the water and waste management market, delegated by the communities.

And each camp has its supporters.

On Wednesday, the Association of Mayors of France (AMF) stressed that it was above all necessary to "preserve the quality of service to users, the investment capacity for the improvement of networks and the treatment of waste and control of pricing ".

© 2020 AFP