Paris (AFP)

Veolia said it was ready on Tuesday to "discuss" with Engie its plan to buy back its stake in Suez, while Suez, opposed to a merger, says that this merger would threaten 10,000 jobs worldwide.

Suez, a specialist in water and waste treatment, has been fighting for its independence since the end of August, since its main shareholder Engie was offered by Veolia to sell its 29.9% of shares for 2.9 billion euros.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Veolia announced that it was ready to talk to Engie who had asked it to improve its offer.

"Discussions are possible on the entire project. The price is one of the components," said the deputy director general of the leader of environmental services, Estelle Brachlianoff, to AFP.

These statements came following a pass of arms between Veolia and Suez on the social impact of a potential merger.

"Obviously that would lead to a social breakdown. It was estimated at 10,000 people in the world including 4 to 5,000 in France", said the deputy general manager of Suez Jean-Marc Boursier in front of a few journalists, on the sidelines of a visit to the International Center for Research on Water and the Environment in Suez, in the Yvelines.

He specified that these calculations had been made "together" with Veolia in 2012, when a merger between the two groups had already been considered, then abandoned, the discussions having notably stumbled on the probable dominant position on the water market. in France of the new entity that would have been created.

"When we saw the appalling nature of the number of layoffs we had to make, we closed the file," said Boursier.

Veolia was quick to respond: "Bertrand Camus (the CEO of Suez, Editor's note) and his team sold 13,000 employees of their group out of the 90,000 in one month. Our project will preserve 100% of the jobs that remain. Each employee will keep 100% of his social benefits. We have said it, we guarantee it, we reaffirm to be ready to write it ", indicated the group in a reaction sent to AFP.

"Ten thousand jobs is what Suez has given up in terms of staff over the past week", with the announcement of the sale of several activities in Germany or in Sweden, said Estelle Brachlianoff.

- set up a counter-offer -

On the union side, the Suez CSE declared that it was summoning Engie and Veolia "in order to suspend the buyout project as long as the employee representative bodies have not been consulted."

The court set the summary hearing for September 29 to hear the parties, including the Suez group, according to a statement from the CSE.

The authority is delighted with this decision which "opens the way to taking into account the interests of employees, extremely worried about the social consequences of this operation."

The unions have also estimated "more than 10,000 job cuts" resulting from a buyout, including 4,000 to 5,000 in France.

Several hundred Suez employees demonstrated on Tuesday in front of the Engie tower at La Défense at the call of their inter-union.

Suez also embarked on Tuesday in a seduction operation aimed at shareholders: in a press release, it declared itself ahead of the objectives of its strategy intended to focus on high added value services, and affirmed its "unique potential for value creation" as an independent company.

An exceptional dividend of at least one billion euros is notably promised to shareholders "as soon as possible and no later than the first half of 2021".

With its plan for 2030, the world number two in the sector hopes in particular to take Veolia's position as number one.

According to management, Suez's strategic plan, announced in October 2019, "has made good progress", in particular its sale and acquisition component for 3 to 4 billion euros.

Investments will target high-growth areas, while annual savings of € 1.2 billion from 2023 are expected.

Growth and profitability should thus make it possible to "double the value" for shareholders from 2022, says Suez.

Provided that the group remains "independent", adjective again hammered Tuesday by its leaders.

While amplifying its strategic plan, Suez is at the same time actively and urgently seeking alternative investors in order to make a counter-offer to Engie.

The latter holds its next board of directors on Friday, intended to examine all the proposals on the table.

cho-vac-kd-mlb / pn / or

© 2020 AFP