French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday a Fiat Chrysler-Renault merger remained an “interesting opportunity,” but added he would tell the French car maker’s chairman that strengthening the Renault-Nissan alliance was the priority.
The French state is Renault SA’s biggest shareholder and sources have said chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is furious over the government’s interference at the car maker after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) withdrew its offer for a €35-billion ($52.6-billion) merger with Renault.
Mr. Le Maire said he would meet Mr. Senard later on Thursday, with the chairman’s position seen weakened by the deal’s collapse and the ensuing fallout with President Emmanuel Macron’s government.
Mr. Le Maire told franceinfo radio he was not responsible for derailing the proposal that would have created the world’s third biggest car maker behind Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. and Germany’s Volkswagen AG.
“It remains in interesting opportunity. But I have always been very clear: that it should be in the context of a strategy to reinforce the [Renault-Nissan] alliance. As long as the French state is the main shareholder, its responsibility to the company, its employees, its factories and research centres is to fulfill its role with other shareholders in defining a strategy.”
The deal collapsed after Nissan said it would abstain at a Renault board meeting to vote on the merger proposal, prompting Mr. Le Maire to request the Renault board to postpone the vote for five days.
“We simply asked for five extra days. Five additional days seems entirely reasonable to me,” Mr. Le Maire said. “Fiat withdrew its offer, as it was entitled to do. But believe me, the state will never react under pressure.”