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France and Italy in row over shipyard

St-Nazaire shipyard Image copyright Getty Images

The French and Italian governments remain at odds over the ownership of France's biggest shipyard.

Last week, the French government nationalised the STX France shipyard at Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast to prevent a majority stake being taken by an Italian company.

The French government said it was seeking to defend France's strategic interests by retaining a 50% stake.

The French finance minister will resume talks on the deal in Rome on Tuesday.

The shipyard is the only one in France big enough to build aircraft carriers, and it also builds other large warships and cruise ships. The world's biggest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, was built there.

It was put up for sale after its biggest shareholder, the South Korean conglomerate STX, collapsed last year. The French government owned the remainder of the shares in the shipyard.

Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri and another Italian investor subsequently reached an agreement to buy a majority stake in the shipyard.

'Best conditions'

However, last week Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced that France had exercised a "pre-emption" right to buy back the stake from the Italians.

He said the reason was to protect France's strategic interests in matters of naval construction.

France proposed a 50-50 ownership deal with Italian state-owned Fincantieri, but the company rejected the idea.

However, Mr Le Maire said the proposition, which would allow France's strategic interests to be preserved, remained on the table.

He said he would travel to Rome on Tuesday to discuss it with Italian government ministers.

In a statement, Mr Le Maire said the decision to nationalise the Saint-Nazaire shipyard was only temporary. However, the move gave France time to negotiate the "best conditions possible" for the participation of Fincantieri in the shipyard, he added.

Italy has hit back against the French decision to prevent Fincantieri taking a majority stake. In a joint statement, Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan and Industry Minister Carlo Calenda said: "Nationalism and protectionism are not an acceptable basis for establishing relations between two great European countries.

"To work on joint projects you need reciprocal trust and respect."

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