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France keeps up pressure on HP jobs

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CIOL Bureau
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OYONNAX, France: French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin maintained pressure on Hewlett-Packard Co. on Friday, calling on the U.S. computer company to rethink its plan to cut 1,240 jobs in France.

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The conservative government, under pressure to reduce unemployment from close to 10 percent, has scheduled a meeting with the firm's European head, Francesco Serafini, and referred its job-cut plans to the European Commission for review.

Villepin said HP should reimburse any public aid it has received in France.

"It is important that public aid is not redirected from its purpose," Villepin said during a visit to Oyonnax in eastern France, adding that subsidies were meant to help firms with their national and international strategies.

"(Firms) cannot pocket aid and then put the key under the door and leave to develop elsewhere. It's a question of economic patriotism," he said.

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HP said in July it would axe about 10 percent of its work force to cut costs by $1.9 billion a year. The world's second-biggest computer maker has said a total of 2,500 jobs will go in Germany and Britain, in addition to the 1,240 in France.

The EU Commission has said it has no power to prevent HP dismissing workers. But France's conservative government has stepped up rhetoric over the case this week, making clear it is ready to put up a fight.

Labour Relations Minister Gerard Larcher is set to meet Serafini on Monday.

Villepin is trying to win back voters' confidence after they rejected the European Union's constitution in a referendum in May. Many French people said they voted "No" because of job concerns.

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Under a policy he calls economic patriotism, Villepin has vowed to take a tough line against any moves by firms that are not in France's interests.

The government is also drawing up a list of industries to keep out of foreign hands.

It has made clear it wants to stave off any hostile bid for food firm Danone since rumours began that U.S. drinks giant PepsiCo Inc. might make a bid.

"It is time that France equips itself with an appropriate arsenal," Villepin said in an interview published by Les Echos newspaper on Friday. "We should compete with equal weapons."

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