Aux armes, citoyens!

President Sarkozy is to save French firms from 'foreign predators', with a new strategic fund.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

France's existing sovereign wealth fund, known as the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, is to operate the new fund, but would be ‘more active, more offensive, more mobile,' a bit like the hyperactive monsieur le president, some might say.

The fear that France is shifting towards an even more protectionist position does not come as much of a shock to those who have been tracking French business fortunes over the past couple of years. The idea that a government could step in to halt the sale of a yoghurt maker (Danone) to a US congolomerate (Pepsi) on the grounds that the business was deemed vital to the country's national interest, is indicative of the Gallic approach.

A 2005 survey of French attitudes towards their country revealed that 60% believed capitalism was bad and 69% supported a policy of patriotisme économique. It's hard to imagine that recent events will have restored faith in the global markets. It would seem then that Sarkozy, by defending his country's business assets, is doing as he is told. ‘I will not be the French president who wakes up in six months' time to see that French industrial groups have passed into other hands,' he told a group of business leaders in the Alps.

France's penchant for giving the cold shoulder to foreign investors has got right up the noses of the Germans - no slouches at warding off foreign ownership themselves. Michael Heise, chief economist at German insurance group Allianz, said: ‘This is not the time to keep out foreign investors. Quite the contrary. Equity capital is much needed and if there are investors willing to take risks we should let them in.' We might agree.

And how effective Sarkozy's protectionist measure will be is already up for debate. There is concern that the resources available for the new fund might be inadequate. As opposition leader François Hollande said: ‘This is not economics, it's magic.'

Pouf! Don't we wish Gordon Brown had a magic wand of his own.

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