As French politicians go to the barricades to keep foreign banks from preying on a vulnerable Societe Generale SA, their European partners are left wondering just who the enemy is.
Days after France's second-largest bank announced that unauthorized bets left it with a trading loss of 4.9 billion euros ($7.2 billion), politicians led by Prime Minister Francois Fillon jumped in to preempt a non-French takeover bid.
Such economic nationalism in a country whose companies remain among the most acquisitive in the region has other Europeans crying foul. In the past year, French firms announced 317 deals in Western Europe, outside France, valued at $89.2 billion, according to Bloomberg data. In the same period, Western European businesses initiated 286 deals in France for $67.2 billion.
Whenever a potential acquisition is considered politically important, ``it is always seen in Paris as the French versus the non-French,'' says Daniel Gros, director of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies. ``There is no European solidarity...'
Fillon, 53, provided an answer in remarks to Parliament Jan. 29. ``Societe Generale is a great French bank and will remain a great French bank,'' he said.
That sentiment is widely held.
``For the French, it is extremely important that one of our oldest banks, with a 140-year history, which was founded by its employees, not by a family, which has never been subsidized by the state, remain in French hands,'' says Patrice Leclerc, head of Societe Generale's employee-shareholders' association.
The protectionist instinct is deep-seated and draws from a political tradition that dates back to the 17th century mercantilist policies of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's finance minister. Colbert established a protective system of tariffs, preventing foreigners from trading in French colonies.
♠ Posted by Emmanuel in Europe at 2/05/2008 09:55:00 PMWith French bank Societe Generale on the ropes (or is that snoozing on the canvas?) after losing, what, $7.2 billion at the hands of new alt-globalization hero Jerome Kerviel , French politicians have vowed that this "national champion" will not go to the dreaded furriners. Enjoy this latest installment of French protectionism. Free trade? Yeah sure, and I'd like to sell you some beachfront property...in Kansas. From Bloomberg: