Sell-off row ends unity in France
Friday 06 December 1996
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.
- 1 Britain First 'acting like Ukip henchmen' by invading meeting of activists in revenge for pub protest against Nigel Farage
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 4 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
- 5 A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
Costa Concordia: Shipment of Mob drugs was hidden aboard cruise liner when it hit rocks off Italian coast, investigators say
Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
Jeremy Clarkson 'could be given minder' ahead of a potential Top Gear return
Germanwings plane crash: Transcript reveals passengers 'screamed for over five minutes' before plane crashed into mountain
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...