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French finance minister blasts EU decision to block Alstom-Siemens merger in face of Chinese competition

Key Points
  • His comments come after the European Union blocked a rail deal between Alstom and Siemens on Wednesday, citing competition concerns.
  • The merger proposal between the French and the German companies planned to create a European rail champion with revenues of about 15 billion euros ($17 billion).
  • The merger proposal referred only to the companies' transport services and would have combined them into one new firm, solely controlled by Siemens.
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France's finance minister expressed his disappointment at a recent EU decision to block a major rail merger, calling for competition rules to be changed to enable European firms to become stronger on the global stage.

"Let's have a look at reality — we are facing a huge challenge with the rise of the Chinese industry. What do we do — shall we divide the European forces, or try to merge the European forces from the industrial point of view?" Bruno Le Maire told CNBC's Hadley Gamble at the World Government Summit in Dubai on Sunday.

His comments come after the European Union blocked a rail deal between Alstom and Siemens on Wednesday, citing competition concerns. The merger proposal between the French and the German companies planned to create a European rail champion with revenues of about 15 billion euros ($17 billion). The merger proposal referred only to the companies' transport services and would have combined them into one new firm, solely controlled by Siemens.

Speaking on a panel at the same event, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser said Monday that the decision was based on out-of-date legislation.

"If it had been decided in the UAE I assure you it would have been different," he told CNBC after praising what he described as the Gulf country's pragmatic and efficient approach to business. "We must not confuse antitrust laws with industrial policies, we need to respect that. But if the future of the world's mobility is being determined with law that is 30 years old, that may have to be revisited — for the future, not for the past."

The EU's competition authority specified that the proposed merger would have created an "undisputed" market leader in several mainline signaling markets, as well as reducing the number of suppliers by removing one of the two largest manufacturers of very high-speed rolling stock.

Both the German and French governments had supported the merger, believing the deal would've been a good counter to the economic rise of China.

"I think it was a mistake from the EU commission to refuse that merger between Alstom and Siemens," Le Maire added.

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"I strongly believe that the right solution is not more division, but more cooperation among French, German and other European companies. That's exactly what we proposed with the merger between Alstom and Siemens ... The Commission took that decision, of course we will abide by that decision, but we will make very strong proposals to change the rules of competition and to allow European industrials to merge and to be stronger," he said.

In Wednesday's ruling, the European Commission said it considers it "highly unlikely that a new entry from China would represent a competitive constraint."

—CNBC's Silvia Amaro contributed to this article.