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by Euro Reporter
2014-06-30 12:18:35
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France urges 'fair' penalty for BNP

French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg says a US penalty on BNP Paribas bank for sanctions busting, due to be announced on Monday, should be 'fair and proportionate'. France's largest bank is expected to be hit with a record $US9 billion ($A9.74 billion) fine and admit its guilt for years of dealing with US-blacklisted Sudan and Iran, in a case that has strained ties between Paris and Washington.

'We have the right to demand a certain balance,' Montebourg told the BFM television station. He reiterated a threat by foreign minister Laurent Fabius earlier in June that the penalty could hurt negotiations on a mega transatlantic trade deal underway between the EU and the United States. 'When it comes to the transatlantic treaty, negotiation will become tougher,' the minister said.

France's largest bank is accused of breaching US sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba between 2002 and 2009 by handling $US30 billion worth of dollar transactions with them. The bank is accused of deliberately hiding the transactions to avoid US detection. The New York Times reported on Friday the fine would be a record $US8.9 billion and part of a deal in which BNP would plead guilty. The penalty comes after months of haggling which saw US President Barack Obama step in to lighten the punishment.

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Unemployment in France rises to a new high

Unemployment in France rose to a new high in May, according to official data released on Thursday, with 24,800 more people seeking jobs, bringing the total number of those without work to a record 3.388 million.

The number represented an overall 0.7 percent increase during the month of April, the country’s Labour Ministry reported. The news doesn’t bode well for the government of President François Hollande, who pledged to stem rising unemployment in France during his 2012 election campaign. The promise, however, has proven difficult to keep. “The unemployment numbers are bad, but at the same time they are not fatalistic,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

He also stressed the importance of the government’s so-called “responsibility pact,” which seeks to shave 50 billion euros off the budget and stimulate job creation, in reversing the trend. Meanwhile, Labour Minister François Rebsamen said in a statement that the “government’s continued efforts should help stem the increase [of unemployment] in the second half of 2014.”

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France urges looser EU antitrust rules after Alstom Tussle

Frustrated by the recent implosion of plans to create European energy and transport champions, France is proposing the European Union relax its antitrust rules. The initiative aims to allow the bloc's largest companies to team up—gaining the scale to compete against global titans—after Alstom SA and Siemens AG failed to combine their operations, French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said in an interview Thursday. German engineering giant Siemens gave up on plans to team up with its fellow European heavyweight because of fears the EU's executive arm would block a broad Franco-German pact resembling industrial behemoth Airbus Group, Mr. Montebourg said. In the end, Alstom's core assets wound up in the hands of General Electric Co.

"The rules have to now change after this story, because we need to make champions," Mr. Montebourg said, leaning forward in his chair and stabbing the air with his index finger. France's President François Hollande will use the opportunity of an EU summit in Brussels Friday to discuss the French proposal, French government officials said. A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, declined to comment on Mr. Montebourg's remarks. The French proposal underscores how the EU and many of its member states are working at cross-purposes as they seek to forge a viable industrial policy. While the EU is focused on fostering competition, national governments want to strengthen domestic players beleaguered by foreign rivals.

One of France's top concerns is the health of its telecommunications industry, Mr. Montebourg said. The EU's "dogmatism," he said, has imposed too many players on national markets, provoking price wars within the bloc's member states and making it impossible for the firms to expand across borders. "All of the operators are ill, and the consolidation is impossible," Mr. Montebourg said. "They are dying," he said, of EU-imposed "Balkanization." Mr. Montebourg's interventionism has been on display for months. In April, he forced GE to delay plans to acquire Alstom's energy-equipment business for $17 billion, clearing the way for Siemens to make a counterbid. He also arranged for France's government to adopt a decree allowing Paris to veto foreign takeovers of Alstom and other industrial firms deemed strategic.

On Tuesday, EU antitrust commissioner Joaquín Almunia singled out the French decree and warned of "serious signals of an increase in protectionist threats in Europe." In the interview, Mr. Montebourg said he recently discussed France's proposal to relax European antitrust rules with German Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, saying his German counterpart backed the French position. "I said it to Sigmar Gabriel, and he said, 'OK, yes, you're right,'" Mr. Montebourg recounted. A spokesman for Mr. Gabriel declined to comment. The French minister's comments come at a delicate time. EU member states, including France, Germany and the U.K., are deliberating over the appointment of new commissioners for the bloc's executive arm. Paris is pushing other EU states to appoint a competition commissioner—the delicate post currently held by Mr. Alumnia—that shares the policy "orientation" of France, Mr. Montebourg said. In late April, Mr. Montebourg said, he was stunned to learn Alstom Chief Executive Patrick Kron was secretly negotiating with GE. The minister summoned Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser to his office in Paris and began to plot the lines of a competing bid that would create two European titans—an Alstom-led train business and a Siemens-led power-equipment business.

 


          
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