As all of you know, French has now a whole new government. That said, some things never change there. In France, when a private company wants to implement a redundancy plan, it is a big deal. This means that, even if the company is not even remotely owned by the State, the government will get involved, one way or the other. It is a French specificity. It is what French people expect. I am not talking about politicians making a comment in passing and acknowledging that the local communities will have a tough ride, which is what seems to happen this side of the Channel. No, in France, the Government will negotiate directly with the company in question and try, as much as possible, to stop the redundancies. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In 2012, Peugeot, the car manufacturer, may have to close down some of its French production sites. Nothing has transpired yet, but the newly appointed Arnaud Montebourg (Minister of “Redressement Productif” –don’t ask me what it is, I don’t know) has already sent a letter to Peugeot’s managing Director, asking him to clarify his intentions as soon as possible, and telling him that a government’s representative, Emmanuel Sartorius, will assess the situation (you can see the full letter here: http://www.lefigaro.fr/assets/pdf/Lettre_Montebourg_PSA.pdf). I am sure that the Peugeot management team appreciated the gesture. They must be ballistic!
Things are slightly different in the UK: in 2003, the Alstom train manufacturing factory in Birmingham (UK) closed down, after 158 years of operations. Tony Blair, the then-labour prime Minister said that “he would do whatever he could to help.” , and that was the end of it. Not much was done and the factory was eventually mothballed. The difference of behaviour is quite telling, isn’t it?
I wonder what’s next. In 1982, the French government nationalised a wide range of French companies. Without going as far as this, France is pretty much an expert in giving subsidies and other social benefits to a wide range of activities. Sometimes other countries complain and the subsidies are deemed to be unlawful after a long and costly legal battle. But most of the time nobody bats an eyelid. That said, such state aids usually buy time for some industrial groups but don’t solve the underlying issues.
I wonder what will happen to French interventionism once we move towards a more federal Europe. I can’t help thinking that the transition will be tough. Really tough…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London