EMCC European Monitoring Centre on Change

Perceptions of globalisation: attitudes and responses in the EU — France

  • Observatory: EMCC
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 02 March 2008



About
Country:
France
Author:
Benoit Robin
Institution:

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

This review and analysis of the impact of globalisation on employment is based on French data which is not completely reliable due to its fragmented nature. Data has been collected using macroeconomic and empirical approaches. The twin-pronged globalisation and restructuring movement of mergers and acquisitions, relocations etc. is worth studying in relation to the main strategies employed by companies and the major groups

Strategies may involve:

  • Direct investment abroad
  • Mergers and acquisitions

Studies tend to show that these strategies have quite a positive impact on the French economy, boosting both employment and foreign trade, while benefiting the economies in which investment is being made.

Delocalisation, meanwhile, does not involve direct investment but is instead based on international sub-contracting. Employment and production is moved away from France, affecting certain regions and manufacturing sectors, such as leather, textiles, clothing, electronics, toys and metallurgy or services such as call centres (and back office sales posts) and data entry (payroll, factoring etc.).

Groups started to relocate to countries with low wages after some sectors and industries, like the textile industry (with the Textile Programmes, for example) stopped receiving government support in the form of governmental programmes. On the other hand, some groups in high added-value sectors or in industries which rely on the qualifications and training level of the workforce are tending to focus on having a strong foothold in France. This approach becomes even more attractive when the quality of public services, for example, helps make them more competitive.

Their approach may be based on completely different motives, so it is advisable to stand back from “ready packaged” information based on opinions which, depending on the profile of the actor in question and its involvement in the event, leave room for subjective interpretation, meaning that emotions can sometimes hold sway over objective factors.

Institutional responses to globalisation

Government action to prevent or reduce the extent of off shoring/relocation

Are there any recent examples in your country (i.e. over the past 3-4 years) of the government intervening to prevent particular activities from being relocated abroad or to reduce the scale of this?

Since the millennium, the government has reacted to the announcement of restructuring by emblematic companies, groups and figures in the French economy. The government has occasionally intervened when relocation plans have provoked relatively strong reactions, notably in terms of public opinion.

We need to examine these interventions on a case-by-case basis to see if they have actually influenced subsequent events.

Just before spring 2006, the Japanese group Toyal, situated in Accous (Pyrénées-Atlantiques Region), announced that it was going to relocate production. This provoked strong reactions from the social partners and led to a member of parliament going on a hunger strike. After thirty-nine days and having lost 21 kilos, the member of parliament signed an agreement with the Minister for Home Affairs and National Planning, Nicolas Sarkozy, Masahiro Aoki, the Toyal second in command, and the President of Toyal Europe, Hervé Lelièvre, stipulating that “Toyal abandons the plan to buy land in Lacq and will carry out the planned investment in Accous”. The government’s involvement via the Minister for Home Affairs, who subsequently became the President of France in May 2007, meant that the State and local authorities undertook to compensate any additional costs relating to the setting-up of the new Toyal Europe production unit in Accous. The agreement meant that the village’s main employer (Toyal) maintained its production activity in Accous.

Other governmental interventions have proved to be less successful. The government intervened in 2003 following the closure of the Metaleurop Nord plant; however the plant definitively closed (FR0302103N) /ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/controversy-over-closure-of-metaleurop-nord. In summer 2003, the government intervened in the case of STMicroelectronics. However, the government only managed reduced the total number of redundancies, using specific measures http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/emcc/erm/static/factsheet_3398.html.

However, it is worth noting that in general the number of official government interventions has tended to drop over the past few decades due to various factors, particularly changes in State influence in the industrial sector caused by privatisations.

Social partner attitudes towards off-shoring/relocation

Have there been cases over the past 3-4 years where the possibility – or threat – of relocation of production has featured as a factor in collective bargaining?

Yes.

In France, the Labour Code (Code du Travail) stipulates procedures to be followed and that workers’ representative committees must be consulted when restructuring and implementing PSE (redundancy schemes).

Before restructuring and off-shoring programmes are implemented, management offer the employees and their representatives the opportunity to alter some of the production organization provisions contained in the collective agreements.

In 2004, Bosch managed to boost its competitiveness by revising the working time reorganisation (aménagement du temps de travail, ATT) thus increasing the number of hours worked per week: (FR0408101N) http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/2004/08/inbief/fr0408101n.html . In 2007, several Bosch plants announced redundancies due to the crisis in the sector /ef/observatories/emcc/erm/factsheets/bosch-5.Are there any cases over the past 3-4 years where trade unions have successfully resisted plans to relocate production abroad or have managed to reduce the extent of this?

Yes.

There have been cases where trade unions and employees have managed to oppose delocalisation through action and sheer determination (see point: Government action to prevent or reduce the extent of off shoring/relocation in the Toyal case) or have enabled the scope of these restructuring programmes to be reduced. In these particular cases, many factors and actors have been involved, meaning that it is likely that this combination of factors and the joint work of the actors led to the initial decision being changed.

The following cases deserve more in-depth analysis and to be included on the Dublin database:

Other cases also require further examination:

Cycleurope ;

If so, please indicate the cases concerned and outline their main features Are there any cases where trade unions have accepted the need for the relocation of production – or part of it – abroad as a means of maintaining or improving the viability of companies and so of preserving some jobs and even ultimately expanding them?

Trade union acceptance of delocalisation is rarely mentioned explicitly. Instead of there being a formal agreement authorising delocalisation, employees and trade unions tend to understand the reasons for delocalisation.

Two additional cases, which appear on the Dublin website, are worth highlighting:

Aubade ;

Heuliez .

Government policy on foreign-owned firms controlling significant sections of the economy

Does the Government in your country have an explicit policy on restricting the acquisition of domestic companies in certain sectors by foreign-owned firms?

Yes/No

If so, please give summary details and indicate which sectors this applies to as well as whether any distinction is made between companies according to their nationality (e.g. whether non-European companies are treated differently from European ones)

No, but in the summer of 2005, rumours of a takeover bid by a US multinational for the French-based food group Danone led to heated debate both within Danone and among public opinion. This compounded the already rising concerns about increasing numbers of company relocation announcements, which had sparked many debates (FR0508107S) and reports (FR0507106F) on the issue. Consequently, on 21 September 2005, the Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry, Thierry Breton, proposed to devise new legislation on takeover bids. This happened well before the announcement of other high profile planned takeover bids at the beginning of this year, such as the bid for European steelmaker Arcelor by the world’s largest steel maker Mittal Steel and, more recently, the bid for French energy utility Suez by the Italian electricity group Enel.

On 23 March 2006, the parliament finally passed the draft Bill (in French) on takeover bids (Projet de loi relative aux offres publiques d’acquisition), which is due to come into effect at the end of May. This legislation will incorporate, into French law, the European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/25/EC of 21 April 2004, setting out a common EU framework for takeover bids. It will also complement legislation passed in 1966, which sets out the entire set of regulations governing takeovers of public companies, as well as the 2001 Act on new economic regulations (FR0603039I). By introducing this new bill, the government hopes to reconcile the international dimension of French companies along with the attractiveness of Paris as a financial centre, with equitable measures designed to protect companies against bids perceived as hostile.

The new law on takeover bids does, however, retain the provisions set out in the decree (in French) of 30 December 2005, establishing a procedure (in French) for foreign investment in so-called strategic sectors, including those likely to impact on public order, national security and defence; this will be subject to government approval.

The bill is based on what has been dubbed the ‘Danone amendment’, which includes:

  • for the company launching the takeover bid, the obligation to state its intentions to the Financial Markets’ Authority (Autorité des marchés financiers, AMF);
  • for the company that is being bid for, the option of issuing stock purchase warrants.

Ultimately, the legislation aims to deter takeover bids that are either hostile or motivated by speculation, by increasing the targeted company’s capital through the issuing of stock purchase warrants, and thus raising the price to be paid by the bidder.

Moreover, the legislation ensures the ‘principle of reciprocity’. Accordingly, a French company must be able to use protective measures comparable to those available to the company initiating the takeover bid. Therefore, a French company will be able to implement new protective measures without consulting its shareholders, if it is targeted by a company that can launch such a bid without having to consult its own shareholders.

The legislation also incorporates the EU provisions on informing employees. Consequently, the bidder must send its prospectus not only to the works council of the targeted company, but also to its own works council.

The trade unions gave little response to the new legislation, and seemed more preoccupied with their immediate concerns relating to the threats of takeover bids and planned mergers (FR0603039I).

As soon as the bill was passed, the employer representative organisation, the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), welcomed the ‘principle of reciprocity’ provision. According to the Chair of MEDEF (FR0508102N), Laurence Parisot: ‘It’s a good thing for European countries to have a law that allows firms targeted by hostile takeover bids to be on a level playing field with foreign companies.’ She added that the new legislation is a ‘sign of pragmatism and common sense at the right time’.

The left-wing government opposition has criticised this legislation, arguing that it is based on free market principles. Meanwhile, the French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, has stressed the overriding necessity to regulate takeover bids, appealing for ‘economic patriotism’, which he used to justify his announcement of the planned merger of Gaz de France (GDF) and Suez.

On 4 April 2006, the European Commission sent the French government ‘an official injunction’ and launched an infringement procedure relating to the so-called ‘anti-takeover bids decree’ of December 2005. The latter imposed restrictions on foreign investment in 11 sectors of the economy. The government has a two-month deadline to come up with arguments likely to convince the Commission of the need for particular restrictions, such as those in relation to casinos.

Are there any restrictions on foreign-owned companies setting up branches or subsidiaries in your country either generally or in specific sectors?

Yes.

The law imposes some restrictions in the following sectors:

  1. Industries in the gambling sector
  2. Regulated private security industries
  3. Research, development and production industries working to prevent the illegal terrorist use of pathogenic or toxic substances and to prevent the sanitary consequences of their use.
  4. Industries developing communications interception equipment and remote conversation detection equipment authorised by Article 226-3 of the code pénal (French Criminal Code).
  5. Service industries within the framework of accredited evaluation centres in line with the conditions laid out in Decree number 2002-535 of 18th April 2002 on the evaluation and certification of product and IT systems security.
  6. Product production and security service provision in the IT systems security sector for companies linked by contract to public or private operators which manage systems in accordance with Articles L. 1332-1 to L. 1332-7 of the code de la défense (The French Defence Code).
  7. Activities relating to dual-use items and technologies set out in Annex IV of modified EC Regulation 1334/2000 of the Council of 22nd June 2000, setting up a Community regime for the control of exports of dual-use items and technologies.
  8. Activities relating to encryption products and encryption services mentioned in Paragraphs III and IV of Article 30 and I of Article 31 of Law number 2004-575 of 21st June 2004 on trust in the digital economy.
  9. Activities carried out by companies which are holders of national defence secrets, notably in terms of classified national defence contracts or security clauses in accordance with Decree number 98-608 of 17th July 1998 relating to the protection of national defence secrets.
  10. Research, production and commercial activities for armaments, munitions, powders and explosive substances for military usage or military equipment and similar items, regulated by Title III and Title V of Book III of the second section of the code de la défense (French Defence Code).
  11. Activities carried out by companies with an equipment research or supply contract with the Ministry of Defence (either as direct providers or sub-contractors) for the supply of goods or services relating to a sector mentioned above in points 7 - 10.

Are there any sectors of the economy in which the acquisition of a domestic company has not been allowed over the past 3-4 years?

No cases have arisen or have become public.

Social partner responses to the take-over of domestic firms by foreign-owned ones

Have there been any recent cases (i.e. over the past 3-4 years) where trade unions have resisted foreign acquisition of domestic companies explicitly because of the nationality of the company concerned?

Yes.

It is worth focusing on two major cases even if the question of ownership is no longer such a key issue in the French debate as it was a few years ago. However, it is still insidiously present.

  • The Suez Case:

The announcement came days after the Italian energy company ENEL (IT9911256F) stated that it was planning to launch a takeover bid for Suez. On 25 February 2006, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced plans to merge the public service energy distributor Gaz de France (GDF), which had been partly privatised in the autumn of 2005 (FR0509104F), with the Franco-Belgian Suez energy group. L’Etat français qui détient actuellement 80% du capital de GDF, passerait à 34% du futur groupe. The Suez group-level works council declared its hostility to a takeover by ENEL, considering the ‘unsolicited offensive’ to be ‘detrimental to employment in both France and Europe’. In France, Law No. 2004/803 of 9 August 2004 (in French) regulates the provision of electricity and gas, and provided for the partial privatisation of GDF. It also stipulates that the state must retain a minimum of 70% of GDF’s equity, to which the government firmly committed itself at the time. Nevertheless, the GDF–Suez merger plan would entail the state reducing its stake to a veto minority, representing 34% of the combined business, which would require amending existing legislation and passing a new law. The unions are more in favour of the establishment of a large energy industry group combining EDF and GDF.

  • Mittal-Arcelor:

Launched on 27th January 2006 and worth €25.3 billion on 19th May, the Indian group Mittal finally obtained the agreement of the European steel manufacturer Arcelor and the majority of its shareholders. These shareholders represent 50.6% of the new group, which was named Arcelor-Mittal. The completion of this takeover bid brought an end to the six-month battle between the two major players in the global steel manufacturing industry. Mittal Steel, the number one, was created following the December 2004 merger between LNM Holdings, a Mittal Group subsidiary, and the Ispat International Group, managed by Lakshmi Mittal. In 2005, the Group bought out the American company International Steel Group, becoming Mittal Steel, established in the Netherlands. The financial director is Aditya Mittal, the founder’s son. The European steel manufacturer Arcelor resulted from the grouping of the Luxembourg company Arbed, the Spanish company Aceralia and the French company Usinor. The trade unions opposed this merger-acquisition, with the Arcelor Board also being against it in the first instance. The board then went on to rule in favour of it. The Arcelor shareholders finally decided in favour of the merger with Mittal. Arcelor, a pan-European predominantly Belgian group with a Brazilian component which had bought out the French group Usinor, causing redundancies /ef/observatories/eurwork/erm/comparative-information/industrial-relations-in-the-steel-industry, specialised in top-end steel, while Mittal produced bottom-end steel.

Have there been any recent cases (i.e. over the past 3-4 years) where domestic companies have resisted acquisition by a foreign-owned firm on the grounds of its nationality?

Yes.

This was notably the case (see previous response) for Mittal-Arcelor. The Arcelor Board was totally opposed to the merger in the first instance.

It is also worth pointing out the Alcao case at the beginning of the 2000s, when the Alcan-Pechiney merger resulted in the failure of the three-way Pechiney, Alcan and Alcoa merger.

This had the following consequences:

In France: (FR0107165N)

/ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/demonstration-held-against-redundancies

In the sector: (FR0412101S)

/ef/observatories/eurwork/erm/comparative-information/industrial-relations-in-the-steel-industry .

Attitudes to globalisation

Have employers’ associations in your country adopted a stated position as regards the main aspects of globalisation – i.e. outsourcing or the relocation of production abroad and the acquisition of domestic companies by foreign-owned ones?

Yes/No

If so, please give summary details, indicating whether or not the position varies across sectors of the economy

Employers’ associations, particularly the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) have taken a stance on globalisation, but do not take it upon themselves to interfere in groups’ strategies such as delocalisation programmes. On the other hand, they do strongly criticise operations that are deemed to not respect ILO international standards, such as the closure of Metaleurop Nord: (FR0302103N) /ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/controversy-over-closure-of-metaleurop-nord.

Have trade unions in your country adopted a stated position as regards the main aspects of globalisation – i.e. outsourcing or the relocation of production abroad and the acquisition of domestic companies by foreign-owned ones?

The trade unions take a stance and express their opinions on globalisation. They oppose and specifically denounce delocalisation programmes which occur at times when the group in question has made a substantial profit and are based on strictly financial criteria such as: (FR0104147F) /ef/sites/default/files/ef_files/eiro/2001/04/word/fr0104147ffr.doc.

The trade unions expressed their opinions at the time of the World Social Forum (FR0203106F) /ef/sites/default/files/ef_files/eiro/2002/03/word/fr0203106ffr.doc and when the world negotiations were launched (FR9911119N) /ef/sites/default/files/ef_files/eiro/1999/11/word/fr9911119nfr.doc.

Even if the question of foreign ownership is hinted at in some trade union press releases, it is no longer the main argument put forward when unions oppose delocalisation programmes: employment is the major concern.

Have there been any surveys of public opinion in your country over the past 3-4 years on attitudes towards globalisation or on the various dimensions of this (as listed above)?

A survey carried out by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org in seventeen countries with 56% of the world’s population showed that France is the country with the highest number of people who believe that globalisation is harmful to their country (42%). The United States was ranked in second place with 35% of Americans believing that globalisation does more harm than good to the economy. In the study, 66% of French people surveyed think that trade barriers must be maintained as they protect employment, even if this means reduced growth.

These figures should probably be looked at in terms of age, social categories etc. But they do provide a snapshot of opinions at a given moment. It would be advisable to carry out more detailed work in order to detect and pinpoint these characteristics.

Have these surveys made a distinction between the different dimensions of globalisation (as listed above) or have separate surveys been carried out on these dimensions?

(FR0507106F) /ef/observatories/eurwork/articles/phenomenon-of-company-relocation-under-the-spotlight

(FR0502106F) /ef/sites/default/files/ef_files/eiro/2005/02/word/fr0502106ffr.doc

(FR0411105F) /ef/sites/default/files/ef_files/eiro/2004/11/word/fr0411105ffr.doc

Have these surveys made an explicit distinction between globalisation and the process of European integration, by, for example, distinguishing between relocation of production to other EU Member States and relocation to countries outside the EU or between the take-over of domestic companies by EU-owned firms and take-over by a non-EU companies?

Generally public opinion does not differentiate between relocations to other EU Member States and to countries outside the EU. As previously stated, this is also the case for foreign or French company ownership. On the other hand, studies on globalisation and European integration do make the distinction.

Benoît Robin, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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