ArcelorMittal’s proposed purchase of Italy’s troubled Ilva steel plant was hailed by nearly all parties as a successful solution to one of Italy’s thorniest and longest-running industrial and environmental problems.
The Ilva steel plant has been dogged for years by under-investment, losses and, most seriously, repeated toxic emissions linked to high cancer and respiratory disease rates in the area.
ArcelorMittal had undertaken to clean up the plant and tackle open-air mineral waste deposits that, according to the Financial Times, spew such serious pollution into the air that the local Taranto authorities have to declare periodic “wind days” (on which schools near the plant are forced to close to avoid dust exposure).
ArcelorMittal’s €1.8 billion (U.S. $2.15 billion) purchase of the plant from the Italian owners would have saved Italy’s largest steel works from insolvency, securing some 20,000 jobs at the plant and supply chain but also, according to pledges made by the firm, would clean up the environmental problems.
Yet politicians in the Taranto and wider Puglia area have mounted a legal challenge to the takeover on the grounds that it does not tackle pollution from the plant quickly enough.
No one said doing business in Italy was easy — but many fear ArcelorMittal could walk from the deal if local politicians continue to obstruct the process.
The European competition authorities in Brussels have already raised objections to the deal on the grounds that ArcelorMittal would control more than half the European market in premium galvanized steel should the purchase go through without divestments in other areas.
Fortunately for the local community that desperately needs the deal to ensure employment while addressing the environmental catastrophic they find themselves in the European steel market is doing rather well at the moment and it remains in ArcelorMittal’s interests to secure the plant if the local communities interests can be shown to be taking precedence.
For the time being though the combination of EU and local opposition means the fate of one of Europe’s largest steel plants remains in the balance.