French minister is an 'imbecile', says US tyre boss
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The highly publicised spat between a US tyre magnate, who accused French Goodyear employees of working “just three hours a day”, and the French minister for industrial renewal continued unabated Friday in a spiralling tit-for-tat quarrel.
The CEO of a US tyre company, who refused to buy up a troubled Goodyear factory in northern France, launched a virulent counterattack on Friday against “stupid” French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg in an increasingly bitter quarrel.
Montebourg had accused Titan CEO Maurice Taylor - who on Wednesday said his company would not re-enter negotiations to buy the plant due to the ‘crazy’ French unions - of being an “extremist” who didn’t understand France or the French.
Taylor told Europe 1 radio on Friday: “Why is he getting at me like this, your minister? Is he stupid or what?
“We’re talking about issues at the Goodyear factory and he throws accusations at me. You should be asking that imbecile some questions.”
A transatlantic slanging match
Taylor’s public spat with Montebourg began on Wednesday when French business daily Les Echos published a letter to the minister, date February 8, outlining why his company would not be re-enter negotiations to buy the plant in Amiens, northern France.
Taylor said Goodyear’s French “so-called workers” only worked three hours a day, spending the rest of the time eating and talking. He also called the communist-backed CGT union “crazy”.
Taylor was responding to a last-ditch request by Montebourg to come back to the negotiating table after the unions had apparently reconsidered their position.
“How stupid do you think we are?” Taylor wrote, before saying he would invest in an Asian tyre manufacturer and flood the French market with cheap imports.
Montebourg hits back
The French reaction was incredulous. Montebourg, who refused to speak directly to the press, issued an open letter at the end of the day on Wednesday telling Taylor: “Your ideas are as extremist as they are insulting, while showing a perfect ignorance of our country.”
Stressing the large number of US companies operating profitably in France, Montebourg also took pains to highlight deep historical links between the two countries, from French help in the American Revolutionary War to respect for sacrifices made by US servicemen in World War II.
He wrote: “The truth is far from your ridiculous and derogatory remarks. All these companies know and appreciate the quality and productivity of the French workforce.
“Your company, Titan, is 20 times smaller than [French tyre giant] Michelin … and 35 times less profitable.”
He concluded by saying that customs authorities would pay extra-close attention to any Titan products coming into France.
‘The extremist, Mr Minister, is your government’
Taylor, an outspoken conservative who was a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, hit back late on Thursday.
In a further letter to Montebourg, seen by Les Echos, he said: “The extremist, Mr Minister, is your government and the lack of knowledge about how to build a business.”
"Your government let the wackos of the communist union destroy the highest paying jobs,” he added, saying he “would be nuts to ... spend millions of US dollars to buy a tyre factory in France paying some of the highest wages in the world.”
“At no time did Titan ask for lower wages; we asked only if you want seven hours pay, you work at least six," he wrote.
Unions vs Titan
Goodyear Dunlop Tyres France (GDTF) had spent five years trying to downsize the operation in the face of mounting losses, but came up against fierce union opposition.
Titan, which has acquired a number of Goodyear plants worldwide, entered negotiations to buy the Amiens factory in northern France in 2012. But the negotiations were blocked by the unions who objected to the company’s plans to shut its consumer tyre business and focus on agricultural products, a move that would have cut the workforce in half.
GDTF officially announced at the end of January that it would close the plant.
The spat between Taylor and Montebourg comes at a difficult time for France, which announced earlier in February that it would not meet key financial targets and that its 2103 deficit would be bigger than expected at 3.7 per cent of GDP.
France is currently fighting an uphill battle to maintain its credibility with its European Union partners, rating agencies and financial markets in the face of serious misgivings over its efforts to reform a stalled economy and cut its budget.