France's Anti-Rich Boomerang

France's Anti-Rich Boomerang

Throughout the election campaign that brought him to the country's executive office in May of this year, France's President Francois Hollande proudly advertised himself as a rich-basher. Remarks like "I don't like the rich" and "my enemy is the world of finance" were often well received by voters inclined to believe that economic activity is a zero-sum game in which a capitalist's gain implies a worker's loss, and vice versa.


Since Mr. Hollande assumed power, this style of electioneering has been put aside. Prominent members of the government continue nonetheless to give vent to the anti-rich rhetoric - if only to attempt to recapture a fast-eroding popularity.


A conspicuous manifestation of the anti-business sentiment that prevails in governmental circles relates to the threat, made last November by the minister of industrial recovery, Arnaud Montebourg, of nationalizing a steel mill located at Florange, in the north of France, and owned by the Indian-born and British national tycoon Lakshmi Mittal. On that occasion, Mr. Montebourg bluntly declared that Mr. Mittal was "no longer welcome in France."


At the root of the minister's animosity was Mittal's decision to close down some furnaces at the Florange plant. The closure was to entail the elimination of 629 posts without layoffs (Mittal promised to ensure the relocation of the workers concerned).


For trade unions, and for Montebourg, Mittal's plan was unacceptable. Hence the threat of nationalization.


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