French Socialist in Mittal Row: We're Just Doing What Obama Does

The French politician who said Indian steel company ArcelorMittal should leave the country has told CNBC that his government is only acting like U.S. President Barack Obama.

French Socialist in Mittal Row: We're Just Doing What Obama Does
Eric Feferberg

Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, a member of the governing Socialist party, caused controversy last week when he said that the Indian company, which employs close to 20,000 people in France, should leave after it said it would have to close down a factory.

The French government announced on Thursday that it could nationalize the factory in question, with backing from an unnamed businessman.

The news raised the specter of the nationalizations of the early 1980s, which were instigated by Hollande's predecessor Francois Mitterrand.

Montebourg told CNBC after a meeting with trade unions in Paris: "Barack Obama's nationalized. The Germans are nationalizing. All countries are nationalizing. I've also noticed the British nationalized 6 banks."

(Read More: Is Obama a Socialist?)

Montebourg is believed to be referring to the takeover of struggling automakers by the U.S. government earlier in the financial crisis.

Lakshmi Mittal, the tycoon who leads ArcelorMittal, met with Montebourg's boss, Socialist President Francois Hollande earlier in the week, but the men appeared to have failed to resolve the issue.

(Read More: Can France Bid Au Revoir to Mittal?)

Montebourg brushed off comparisons with that era. He said: "It's a very good sign to send out (to investors). Nationalizing is a very modern step to take. Especially when you not only nationalize losses but profits as well, when you make public/private partnerships. This is our strategy.

"The strategy we're putting forward is extremely modern and adapted to the current times of crisis. It's a way of making the economy work in the interests of industry, more than just helping the financial sector," he added.

He declined to answer a question about comments from Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who told Indian businessmen earlier this week to come to London instead of France.

Hollande, who is perceived as more to the right of the Socialist party than Montebourg, is currently trying to push through reforms to help reinvigorate growth and stimulate the labor market. He has so far proved to be less left-wing than many in the market feared, and there has been cautious welcome for a high-profile competitiveness report and better-than-expected economic growth. (Related: How to Attract Capital)

Still, policies such as a maximum 75 percent income tax rate have raised eyebrows among the country's wealthy.

Written by Catherine Boyle, CNBC. Twitter: @cboylecnbc.