National interest first, European second
The spat between France and Italy over the temporary nationalisation of the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire is more than just a new low point in the relationship between the two countries.
The decision to blocks the Italian buyer Fincantieri from taking a majority stake in STX redefines industrial policy in Europe. Instead of emerging as a leading figure for European integration, Emmanuel Macron is now a man who stands for the national interest first. And the less-competitive Italy has every reason to feel let down.
What just happened in industrial policy is also true for other policy areas: take France’s lack of cooperation with Italy over refugees; compounded by Macron’s solo stunt organising peace talks in Paris with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Khalifa Haftar. The Italians consider Libya to be in their sphere of influence.
The showdown over STX has been in the cards for quite some time: The Italian company Fincantieri bought 66.6% of STX France from South Korea’s STX Offshore and Shipbuilding, as part of bankruptcy proceedings in May.
Fincantieri had agreed the purchase from the Korean owner with Francois Hollande’s administration. Soon after the deal got the green light in May, critics challenged the decision amid fears that French activities would be transferred to Italian sites, and that the new Italian owner would even transfer French know-how to its partner in China.
At the end of their mandate Hollande’s administration had negotiated a very subtle compromise according to Le Monde: Fincantieri would accept a minority stake of 48% but retain the control thanks to a 6% stake by the private foundation Fondazione CRTrieste. Another 33% would go to the state, and the rest to the French public enterprise Naval Group.
This was the compromise on the table, to guarantee French control over strategic know-how relevant in particular for the military fleet.