P&O Ferries has pledged to fight any attempt by the French government to prop up cross Channel rival SeaFrance.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy is reported to be making efforts to prevent SeaFrance from being wound up at a court hearing today and is backing a plan to turn it into a co-operative.
The state-owned company, which employs 880 people, has been in limbo since November, when it halted Channel crossings as it was placed into administration after a €5 million bid by rival DFDS was rejected for undervaluing the company.
The French government backing for the co-operative plan represents an about-face after it criticised unions for not engaging in talks about a new improved offer from DFDS. However the co-operative plan has so far only raised €12 million of the €40-€50 million it needs.
French transport minister Thierry Mariani is reported by The Times as declaring that authorities were now prepared to back the trade union proposal to turn SeaFrance into a co-operative. He said: “Since the employees want to create a co-operative, the Government is going to help them.”
But a P&O Ferries spokesman said: “If there is any suggestion that the French state will continue to support this company, we will lodge an immediate complaint with Brussels and we will pursue that complaint most vigorously.”
SeaFrance owner SNCF had sought to save the Dover-Calais operator with a €223 million recapitalisation last summer, but the package, which included a €100 million state loan, was rejected in October on competition grounds by the European Commission.
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