Arnault says France living in social-Marxist past

Paris, Mar 29 | Updated: Mar 30 2007, 06:02am hrs
Frances richest man waded into the countrys presidential election debate on Thursday by attacking a Social-Marxist culture he said still dominated much thinking about the economy.

Bernard Arnault, ranked by US magazine Forbes as the 7th richest person in the world with an estimated personal fortune of $26 billion, said France needed a sea-change in attitudes if it was to grow faster and create more jobs.

If we want to get France out of its current situation, with its debt and unemployment, the only way is to re-launch the economy by profoundly changing the approach of the last nearly 25 years, Arnault told Europe 1 radio in an interview. I think there remains in France a basic Social-Marxist culture which has totally disappeared among our main competitors, said Arnault, who controls luxury goods groups Christian Dior.

France votes in April and May, with Socialist Segolene Royal, Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and centrist Francois Bayrou vying to run the euro zones second largest economy.

Nine other candidates are also standing, including a Communist, three Trotskyites and an anti-globalisation farmer.

French executives have complained in the past that the countrys political leaders have an anti-business bias, but most have stayed on the sidelines during the election campaign. However, Arnault broke ranks on Monday, taking aim at the French left, which has traditionally viewed big business with suspicion and has regularly railed against generous executive salaries, stock option plans and hefty dividend payouts.

I think the left in France is archaic from this point of view compared with the left in Britain, said Arnault, who is an adviser on international business issues to British finance minister Gordon Brown. It would be difficult in the current climate to play a similar role in France, he said.

Royal said last year capitalists have to be frightened to deter them from re-locating business to cheaper labour markets, while Sarkozy, who presents himself as pro-business, has revealled strong interventionalist tendencies. However, Royal appeared to soften her approach in an interview published on Thursday, saying she wanted a new deal with business that overcame traditional cliches.

Of course I am for a market economy ... As for profits, they are necessary, she told business magazine, Challenges.

Asked about Royals comments, Arnault said he did not want to comment on specific candidates, but added that the French left needed to change if it wanted to win election.

What France needs in my view is to make all voters, all the population aware that a countrys wealth is created by its companies and not by inflating state spending, Arnault said.

Reuters