The CEOs of two of the biggest names in global renewables today were queuing for the ear of French President Francois Hollande as they laid out rival bids for Alstom – with GE’s Jeff Immelt first into the Elysee Palace for "productive dialogue" and Siemens set to follow later.
The blessing of the French government has emerged as the key to any plans to acquire Alstom, which is the subject of a widely trailed – though still officially unconfirmed – $13bn takeover bid by the US industrial giant.
Siemens emerged today as a rival contender with a reported proposal to exchange assets with the French industrial group, taking on its power and grid interests and sending transportation the other way.
But any deal for Alstom is sensitive in France, where the company is seen as a key industrial asset, even though it is not state owned. For example, Alstom is a big part of France’s offshore wind plans.
GE CEO Immelt met with Hollande and his energy minister in Paris earlier today, to discuss “potential investments in France”and still making no mention of Alstom.
In practice, however, that is understood to mean the future of jobs, production and R&D under any GE deal for Alstom.
According to news agency Bloomberg, which first reported the potential deal last week, the French government is not implacably opposed to a GE acquisition provided its concerns can be allayed.
A GE statement said: “The dialogue was open, friendly and productive. It was important to hear in person President Hollande’s perspective and to discuss our plans, our successful track record of investing in France, and our long-term commitment to the country.
“We understand and value his perspective, and we are committed to work together.”
Siemens and its CEO Joe Kaeser are due to meet Hollande and his ministers later today.
The German group stepped into the ring after seeing its big US rival potentially arriving on its own back doorstep in Europe.
The latest statement from Siemens on the matter appears to confirm that the outcome of the meeting will be pivotal.
It said: “A Siemens delegation will have the opportunity to meet with the French president and other high-ranking French political leaders today. Following this meeting, Siemens will convene as soon as possible to decide whether to make an offer for Alstom and what this will consist of.”
Alstom would be a big prize for either GE or Siemens, offering among its many and varied power interests a way into the French offshore sector and a big presence in the valuable Brazilian wind market, as well as its significant grid operation.