Beniot Potier, the chief executive of Air Liquide, one of the world’s biggest gas companies, called France flat and lacking in dynamism, while criticising the country’s tax and regulatory policies, in an interview with the Financial Times.
Potier, who is also the Chairman of the European Round Table of Industrialists, an organisation that brings together the heads of the 50 biggest industrial firms in Europe, stopped short of agreeing that France was the “sick man of Europe.” He said it’s fairer to call France “flat”:
I don’t think we are sick. I think France, if you look at the numbers, France is flat. There are countries during the crisis that were down significantly, particularly in southern Europe. France was nearly flat. If I look at the volumes and turnover, it’s flat.
The problem of France is not to be sick, the problem of France is to find the way to be more dynamic. To grow and add more energy into the system, and to find the recipes for that.
Potier identified France’s labour markets and tax system as two major problems for the country. The problem isn’t with French companies themselves, he noted, but the business climate in France, as their international performance demonstrates:
French companies are doing very well outside of France. That’s a very good example of what we can do. So why don’t we invent in France the environment that we find in the rest of the world?
It’s not Poutier’s first venture into criticism of the current French government. Two and a half years ago he said that the regulatory climate was becoming “more and more constraining” just months after President Francois Hollande took office.
It’s not even the first embarrassment for the French government this year. The Socialist administration quietly killed off its 75% payroll tax on Jan. 1, ending a two-year experiment with the extremely high rate.
The country was also slammed by John Lewis managing director Andy Street last October. Street is the most senior executive at the UK retailer. “If you’ve got investments in French businesses, get them out quickly,” he was reported as saying. “I have never been to a country more ill at ease … nothing works, and worse, nobody cares about it.”
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