PARIS (AP) — French engineering firm Alstom SA said Wednesday it was ready to accept General Electric Co.'s bid to buy its energy business, but bent to its government's order to put any deal on hold for review.
Alstom has tasked a committee of independent board members with examining a deal that CEO Patrick Kron negotiated over the last month with GE, which has offered $17 billion for Alstom's power turbines business.
The deal remains Alstom management's clear favorite — the company's board said it unanimously recognized the deal's strategic and industrial merits, and Alstom itself called the deal "practically perfect."
But in the wake of loud protests by some in the French government caught completely off guard by news of the planned deal, Alstom has put the project on hold for one month. The board committee, led by ex-Peugeot Citroen boss Martin Folz, has until June 2 to review the deal.
France's government, which regularly intervenes in corporate decision making, had questioned whether selling Alstom to Connecticut-based GE threatens the country's energy independence and jobs. Officials had pressed for more time to allow rival Siemens, based in Germany, to make an offer.
Should the deal go through, the parts of Alstom that would remain would employ 27,000 people, making trains, trams and railway signaling equipment. That's compared with 110,000 employees Alstom had when Kron took the top job a decade ago.
In an interview in Wednesday's Le Monde, Kron defended the breakup of one of France's one-time industrial giants.
"If it's to ensure the future of Alstom's métiers and jobs, I take responsibility for this attachment of some of Alstom's activities to a group that has the capacity to better face future challenges," Kron said.