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By Andreas Rinke
STRALSUND, Germany (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday the German government would support a tie-up between engineering firm Siemens and French rival Alstom if the corporate decision-makers decide that it would make sense.
Cash-strapped Alstom, which makes power generation and transmission systems as well as trains and trams, is reviewing a binding $16.9-billion bid by U.S. giant General Electric for the energy activities that make up the bulk of its business.
Sources close to discussions on Alstom's future said the option of the French state taking a stake in the group had been mooted but was not under serious consideration for now.
Speaking at a news conference with French President Francois Hollande in the Baltic town of Stralsund, Merkel said it was above all a corporate decision and her government did not want to intervene in that process.
"Those are corporate decisions and we, from the German side at least, will not get involved in that," Merkel said.
"But we talked about it. If the corporate decisions lead to the point where one says 'that would be advantageous' then Germany will also positively accompany it."
Hollande agreed with Merkel that any takeover was above all a corporate decision and both said their governments were waiting for Siemens to make an offer.
Siemens Chief Executive Joe Kaeser has already discussed a possible bid for Alstom's energy business with Merkel and met French officials about it in Paris on Friday.
"We are awaiting the detailed offer from Siemens before taking a position. We don't want to prejudge the choice," Hollande said.
He also said the French government was focusing on what would be in the best interests of Alstom and Siemens employees.
Alstom said last week it was reviewing GE's offer but would leave the door open to Siemens if it came forward with proposals by the end of the month. The French government had previously signaled it would prefer such a Franco-German tie-up.
The French state currently has a 0.9 percent stake in Alstom via its CDC state holdings vehicle.
France's interventionist Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg told parliament on April 30 the government would consider taking a larger stake in the group as urged by trade unions, but such an option was played down hours later by the government.
One source familiar with the latest discussions said a shareholding in Alstom was "one option the French state is looking into" but other sources cautioned that it was unlikely to get traction.
"That option might have been discussed (between French and German officials) but the likelihood of seeing it happen is close to zero," said one source familiar with the situation.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Stralsund, Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin and Leigh Thomas in Paris, additional reporting by Sophie Sassard and Arno Schuetze; Editing by Sophie Hares)