The French economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, has intervened in the potential sale of Alstom, telling the company to consider the merits of Siemens as an alternative buyer.

Montebourg said his government was standing in the way of a snap decision on the potential purchase by GE, telling local press that the “national interest” was at stake. He told French daily Le Monde that the potential deal was of “patriotic concern” to France.
Referring to Siemens (NYSESI), he said that deal would create “two champions of Europe and the world in the fields of energy and transport, one based around Siemens and the other around Alstom”.

It now looks likely that the company will be subject to a bidding war between the US and German companies.

“Given the strategic stakes for French industry and economy, the government won’t accept any decision made in haste and without taking account of alternative choices in the national interest,” he said in a statement. He added that he would examine both GE and Siemen’s proposals “with the aim of preserving the interests of France’s industrial base” and said that the state was “ready to take part financially” in a deal.

Bloomberg last week broke the story that GE were in talks to make a $13bn bid for the turbine maker and GE boss Jeff Immelt had been due in Paris today to hold talks with Montebourg over a possible deal for Alstom (Euronext: ALO).

However, a spokeswoman for the minister subsequently said Immelt’s meeting had been postponed “for a few days”. His office later said he would take this time to consider the Siemens bid more closely.

On Sunday evening, French President François Hollande gathered his top ministers, including Montebourg and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, to discuss the Alstom case. Hollande was due to meet GE’s CEO Immelt on Monday morning.

Alstom is one of France’s biggest engineering firms, employing 18,000 people in the country and is a major government contractor.

Siemens said it sent the Alstom board a letter “to signal its willingness to discuss future strategic opportunities” but declined to elaborate.

According to Le Figaro, however, Siemens is offering Alstom half of the German firm’s train-making division plus cash in exchange for the French firm’s turbines division.

The newspaper, which said it has seen the contents of the letter sent to the Alstom board, described the offer as informal but detailed and reported that it included a proposal for Alstom to take on Siemens’ high-speed trains and locomotives arm, but not its metropolitan trains division. The French daily gave no details of the cash part of the deal.

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