The closure of the Bridgestone plant in Béthune has been confirmed: the Japanese tire giant is throwing in the towel. A cold shower for the government, which for a long time believed it could change its mind. “Bridgestone has closed the door, Bridgestone is leaving Béthune” … It is with these words, tinged with bitterness, that Agnès Pannier-Runacher announced the news. The Minister of Industry had nevertheless spared no efforts to save the tire factory, making the trip several times to negotiate with the Japanese.
Today, the manufacturer considers unrealistic the business continuity plan proposed by the State, which provided for the maintenance of at least 525 jobs out of the 863 of the site. For Bridgestone, this plan does nothing to solve its overcapacity problems in Europe – especially with the worsening Covid-19 crisis – it therefore prefers to leave, even if it means selling its factory to a competitor.
In the race against time to find a buyer, there is first of all the tracks of Bridgestone which cites a dozen potential offers, including four already well defined contacts. Manufacturers apparently based abroad, and able to resume production of the same type of tires, but with fewer jobs at stake. At the same time, the group says it is working on the reclassification of hundreds of employees in some of its subsidiaries such as Speedy, in the region or elsewhere in France.
For its part, the government is working on alternative scenarios, such as that of an ecosystem around an electric battery site which should soon open not far from there, and which could recruit up to 2,400 people. The State and local communities remain ready to put their hands in their pockets, but for serious recovery projects, by providing one euro of public money for each euro invested by the private sector.
In the meantime, what lessons can be learned from this closure of Bridgestone Béthune? First of all, a State, however convincing it may be, cannot retain a multinational that has decided to go produce elsewhere. Even if she has received public aid for years, nothing obliges her to repay them. The competitiveness argument does the rest: in an interview with Echoes, the boss of Bridgestone Europe explains that by staying in Béthune, he would have continued to lose money on each tire produced.
And then for the government, the pill is all the harder to swallow, since it had made Béthune the symbol of its fight against factory closures. At a time when social plans are multiplying against the background of a pandemic, Emmanuel Macron’s commitment – made last September – not to “give in to fatality” in the face of bankruptcies and restructuring now seems much more difficult to hold.