Henri Proglio, the newly appointed president of France's public electric company EDF who also serves as chairman of the private Veolia water management firm, has given up the smaller of his two company salaries after mounting public criticism.
Henri Proglio, the new head of French energy company EDF, has chosen to give up the smaller of the two salaries he was receiving amid fierce criticism from French opposition politicians.
Proglio was to be paid 1.6 million by EDF and a further 450,000 by Veolia, a water and waste management company, where he remains chairman of the board after joining EDF management. He has given up the smaller, Veolia payments.
What sparked public anger was not so much the amounts in question (130 times the French national average), but more that Proglio has fingers in both pies: speculation is rife that EDF and Veolia could merge in the future, presenting an obvious conflict of interests.
Proglio's problems were exacerbated by comments from Finance Minister Christine Lagarde in November that Proglio would only receive a single salary.
Lagarde said Proglio would devote a “small amount of his time” to Veolia and “100 percent of his time to EDF”.This argument does not hold much water with her critics, who point out that it will be hard for Proglio to disassociate himself from a company where he has worked for 39 years and where he has been the CEO since 2003.
Despite accusations of a conflict of interests and deception from the Finance Ministry at Bercy, Proglio’s appointment nevertheless has the support of the UMP majority.
But this has not stopped the opposition from launching a fierce condemnation of Proglio’s nomination and the big salary for a job essentially as the head of a national company (the French state owns 83 percent of EDF).
Arnaud Montebourg of the Socialist Party said the appointment “represents such a huge conflict of interests it may even be unlawful”. Former Prime Minister Michel Rocard spoke of “an economy of greed that is no longer morally acceptable to the electorate” while General Secretary of the Green Party Cécile Duflot called for a cap on salaries in publicly owned companies at 40 times the French median average of 15,780 euros a year.
Flavour of the month
While there are many who accuse Lagarde of blatantly lying in November when the issue of his double paycheque was dismissed, voices just as loud point to collusion at the very top.
Proglio is very much flavour of the month with President Nicolas Sarkozy, having supported his presidential bid in 2006.
Some suggest that a deal struck at the Elysée Palace forced Christine Lagarde to backtrack on her November promises.
Veolia defended Proglio Wednesday, saying that he had renounced his position as a sitting member of the board and that he would not benefit from any bonus.
Yet others point out that while large, a salary of two million euros is comparatively small. Salary of top bosses at French companies averaged 3.6 million in 2008. Two examples include the CEO of Lagardère who earned 13.2 million in 2008 and Bernard Arnault, CEO at LVMH, who earned 17 million.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning