Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The State as Puppeteer
Paul Betts has a scathing piece in the Financial Times about the French practice of choosing "national champions" in various industries and staffing them at the highest levels with products of the Grandes Écoles hand-picked by the Élysée. The immediate pretext for the piece is the 2.4 billion euro writedown at Areva following the ouster of Anne Lauvergeon, who built the company after being selected by Mitterrand. Her removal followed a long public struggle with Henri Proglio, now chairman of EDF but formerly head of Veolia, where he compiled a lackluster record, according to Mr. Betts, but was nevertheless dubbed by Nicolas Sarkozy as "France's best industrialist." Other sick champions include Air France, EADS, and Thales. Presidential string-pulling is the system's biggest flaw, according to Betts, who also writes that under Sarkozy "this system has reached its apotheosis."