The German government voiced support on Monday for a deal between Siemens and France's Alstom, saying mooted plans for a swap of energy and rail assets could offer "great opportunities" for both countries.
The German engineering group, which missed out on acquiring Alstom assets a decade ago due to opposition from the French government, is reportedly ready to offer the French firm half of its train-making business plus cash in exchange for Alstom's power turbines division.
The French government wants to find alternative bidders to US conglomerate General Electric, which sources say is in advanced talks to buy Alstom's turbines and power grid equipment business for about $13 billion (€9.38bn).
"A possible partial takeover offers great opportunities and has great potential for both Germany and France from an industrial policy point of view," a spokesman for the German economy ministry said on Monday when asked about a possible deal between Siemens and Alstom.
"We believe it makes sense to strive for cooperation with France in the energy area."
Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel was in close contact with all parties, and keeping Chancellor Angela Merkel informed about how talks were progressing, the spokesman added, declining to say whether France had requested intervention from Germany.
Separately, a government source told Reuters that Siemens had informed officials in Berlin about its interest in Alstom over the weekend, and that talks had also taken place between Berlin and Paris.
"From the French point of view, Siemens is the lesser of two evils," the source said. "This shows how difficult things have become for French industry overall."
The source said cooperation between Siemens and Alstom had not been a topic of discussion in recent meetings between top government officials. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg met their German counterparts in Berlin on April 7, before news of GE's interest in Alstom surfaced.
Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser was due to meet with French President Francois Hollande later on Monday. The company said in a statement that its board would convene as soon as possible after the meeting to decide whether to make a formal offer for Alstom assets.
Back in 2004, then-French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pushed through a bailout of Alstom, which prevented Siemens from acquiring its large turbine business, a move that ruffled feathers in Berlin and Munich, where Siemens is based.