PARIS, (Reuters) – President Nicolas Sarkozy has trumpeted the signing of billions of euros worth of business contracts with Libya, but on Tuesday several French companies and industry sources played down the scale of the announcement.
Sarkozy said on Monday he would sign contracts worth 10 billion euros with visiting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but they appeared either to be the finalisation of deals already reached or “guestimates” about contracts still being negotiated.
“Between what a politician and someone in the industry would call a contract, there can be a gap as to whether things will materialise or not,” an industry source told Reuters.
The president’s office announced the signing of contracts with plane maker Airbus, water giant Veolia, public works group Vinci and nuclear reactor company Areva late on Monday.
Among the announced deals were orders for 21 Airbus aircraft, worth a total of around $3.2 billion at list prices.
Airbus, a unit of EADS, later said the orders were the finalisation of a memorandum of understanding signed at the Paris Air Show in June.
Paris and Tripoli also signed a memorandum of cooperation on arms, which a source at the president’s office said could lead to a contract worth 4.5 billion euros. This would include 14 Rafale warplanes from Dassault Aviation, he said.
The French newspaper Le Figaro said late on Monday in a preview of its Tuesday’s edition that Libya had agreed to purchase 14 Rafales, but the paper later withdrew its story, saying it had wrongly interpreted information.
France and Libya also signed a nuclear cooperation deal including the sale of one or more nuclear reactors for sea water desalination plant and support for uranium mining. But a source close to the situation said the only contract Areva was set to sign during Gaddafi’s visit was one of electricity transmission and distribution (T&D), with an estimated value of around 300 million euros. “For the nuclear part of the accord, discussions are still at the political stage and not the industrial stage. We are not today negotiating the supply of a reactor to the Libyans. This is a long-term thing,” the source said. “If you are talking strictly business, then there are just the T&D contracts.”
On Tuesday, Sarkozy’s office released more details on Libyan purchases, unveiling contracts worth 2.1 billion euros over 25 years for Veolia Water and 600 million euros for Vinci. But at Vinci, which is already present in Libya, a spokeswoman said no contracts had been signed with Tripoli. “There are various projects about which we are having discussions, but nothing is final and nothing has been signed,” the spokeswoman said.
Veolia declined to comment.
Asked late on Monday where the 10 billion euros came from, Sarkozy’s diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte, said simply: “They are there.”