Sell-off row ends unity in France

For a few hours after the Port Royal bomb in Paris last Tuesday it looked as though the French government was off the numerous hooks on which it has impaled itself since the summer. In adversity, the French rally around the republique and the politicians were quick to exploit the sense of national danger.

The majority Gaullists called for national solidarity. The UDF, the junior partner in the coalition government, stopped sniping at the Gaullists and called for unity. Pressure for a cabinet reshuffle was dissipated and Mr Chirac's brief statement of outrage and sympathy from the steps of the Elysee seemed to satisfy the popular clamour for an "address to the nation".

The trade unions, keen to show themselves as responsible members of society, called off planned strikes and demonstrations in the capital, and the lorry drivers were back at work - or sacked. In short, the political coast looked clear until Christmas at least and a highly unpopular government suddenly had credibility to spare.

However, any sense of cool competence and national purpose was shortlived, shattered by an announcement that the privatisation commission, a body of seven wise (and usually yes-) men had vetoed the planned privatisation of the Thomson defence, technology and media group.

The project had been highly controversial because the chosen buyer was not the favourite and because the deal involved the further sale of a Thomson subsidiary, Thomson Multimedia, to the South Korean Daewoo. The price, a symbolic one franc had raised traditionalist and patriotic hackles and the unions were up in arms.

With the announcement that the deal was off, all the political capital that had accrued to the government after the bombing evaporated. A terse statement from the office of the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, said that the group would still be privatised. The Economy Minister, Jean Arthuis, offered convoluted statements yesterday about how the offer would be reframed "in full transparency" - implying that the previous deal had been decided by Mr Juppe without the appropriate ministry being consulted.

The unions and the Socialist opposition were euphoric, the public at large bemused. On the one hand, people had never believed that a French company such as Thomson could be making a loss and disliked the foreign element of the deal. On the other, they had just been presented with a colossal government U-turn without any explanation or resignation.

This was the second time in a month that the government had called off a privatisation: it shelved plans to sell off the CIC savings bank last month saying the bids were unsatisfactory, then sacked the (government- appointed) head of the parent company for allegedly obstructing the privatisation.

The Thomson debacle was far worse: not only had a buyer been found and agreed, but the government had gone out of its way to defend the deal. Now, a hitherto rubber-stamp of a committee had rejected it on the grounds (which seemed to support the public's worries) that the large government subsidy provided to Thomson as a condition of the sale would find its way into South Korean pockets without any real guarantee that jobs would be created, or even saved, in France.

At once, those of the government's supporters who would naturally have favoured the privatisation - the same people who accuse the government of capitulating to the lorry drivers and on welfare reform - were asking themselves again about the Prime Minister's competence. Those who opposed the privatisation in general and the buyer in particular - the same people by and large who supported the lorry drivers and opposed the very principle of welfare reform - were rejoicing over a victory for Frenchness and common sense.

The result is that, three days after a bomb attack that paradoxically seemed to come to the government's aid, Mr Juppe's isolation and the public's cynicism are even greater than before.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open