France's industry minister has accused the world's largest steelmaker, Mittal, which acquired France's Arcelor in 2006, of "lying" and urged it to leave the country.
Arnaud Montebourg’s attack on ArcelorMittal on Monday intensifies the row over plans to close two furnaces in northeastern France.
"These are quite violent declarations against a company which employs 20,000 people in France"
- Unnamed Reuters source
The dispute that is central to Socialist President Francois Hollande's efforts to save jobs and reverse years of industrial decline.
It came after Montebourg, one of the most left-wing ministers in the government, said last week that France could nationalise the company's Florange site on a temporary basis while the government tries to find a buyer.
ArcelorMittal has said it will shut down two blast furnaces at Florange from December 1, unless the government can find a buyer to operate them.
"We no longer want Mittal in France because they haven't respected France," Montebourg said in an interview with Les Echos business daily published on Monday.
He said Lakshmi Mittal, the company's chief executive, had told "shameful lies" since 2006 about the group's plans and had not kept his promises to the French government.
"The problem with the blast furnaces at Florange is not the blast furnaces at Florange, it's Mittal," he said.
A source close to Lakshmi Mittal, who according to French media is due to meet with Hollande on Tuesday, told the Reuters news agency that management were "very shocked" at Montebourg's words.
"These are quite violent declarations against a company which employs 20,000 people in France," the source said.
Montebourg did not elaborate on his comment. It was unclear whether he meant that the government would consider taking over the more than 100 ArcelorMittal sites in France - or simply wanted to raise pressure on the company as the deadline looms.
The fate of Florange, situated in the former heart of French steelmaking country, became a symbol of France's flagging industry during campaigning for the May election and is now a test of Hollande's promise to reverse the decline.
Failure to save jobs at Florange would add to a list of industrial shutdowns, including a Peugeot PSA production site near Paris, and risks deepening fears in the public that the government is powerless to save jobs.
Unemployment is at a 13-year high of over 10 per cent and October jobless claims due on Tuesday are expected to show another increase.
A spokesperson for Montebourg was not immediately available to comment.
ArcelorMittal, which employs some 20,000 people across France, declined to comment.