Continental Tyres Set to Hold Talks on Sale of French Plant

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By Katherine Clarkson

Continental has announced it is ready to open discussions with a Dubai-based firm on selling the French tyres plant it plans to shut.

If a deal is struck it could bring an end to one of the most high-profile industrial disputes in France’s history.

The German tyres manufacturer’s announcement that it would close the Clairoix plant in northern France back in March due to the global economic downturn, sparked angry protests from the 1,120 workforce.

Furious staff hurled eggs and insults at managers, burnt tyres on the streets of Paris and trashed two buildings after losing a court battle against the closure.

However, United Arab Emirates-based industrial and property group MAG said last month it was in “initial” talks with Continental on buying the factory, and Continental announced yesterday it was prepared to enter the next phase of negotiations.

Nikolai Setzer, the head of Continental’s tyre division, said in a statement: “Today, we propose that MAG enter negotiations in the event of a possible takeover offer.

“Continental is showing real openness regarding a possible proposal by MAG, including by providing MAG with support and technical assistance.”

He added: “The discussions between Continental and MAG are today focused on the sale of the site and all of its production capacity, … its equipment and its know-how,” Setzer said in his statement.

Finding a buyer for the site would be a boost to France’s government, which faces rising unemployment and is often called upon to help workers at plants that are due to be shut down.

A senior MAG executive had a meeting at French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office on Monday, and company officials were able to visit the Clairoix site for the first time on Tuesday.

As the talks go on, however, Continental’s Clairoix workers intend to continue protesting.

Between 200 and 300 staff broke into the company’s French headquarters and occupied it on Wednesday to protest against the planned closure.

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