The official purpose of Nicolas Sarkozy's visit was to announce that the French government is going to lend a local company called Daher 85M euros — that's more than $100 million. The banks aren't making loans available right now, in France as in the U.S., so the government is stepping in to act as a lender. Daher is a family-owned aeronautics components manufacturing company (équipementier aéronautique in French) with a plant over in Montrichard. The company just signed a deal of some kind with EADS, the European company that owns Airbus.
But official trips are nearly always accompanied by a little politicking. This is the second time Sarkozy has visited the Loir-et-Cher since he became President of the Republic a couple of years ago. UMP "militants" — card-carrying members of the President's party — planned to turn out to meet and greet the president in Saint-Aignan, according to one article I read.
The political event was a lunch for the local faithful over at the new hotel complex operated in connection with the ZooParc de Beauval, just a couple of miles from here. I don't know what the menu was (but wish I did). We haven't yet tried the new restaurant over there.
In his remarks at Daher, Sarkozy explained that the French government has decided to make loans to private companies because of the current financial crisis and credit squeeze. He seemed a little embarrassed, because he was elected as strong advocate of free-market policies and an opponent of government intervention in the private sector. Now he has set up a "strategic investment fund" to make loans (or "investments") available to selected companies, saying he wants to take advantage of the current economic crisis to encourage change in France.
Looking chastened (to me), Sarkozy even made mention of the fact that some analysts might accuse him of adopting "socialist" policies by propping up private companies. He said the government is targeting "successful" companies and its "investments" would be a short-term fix. Sarkozy said he hoped the government would actually make a profit on the loans handed out — pour vous, he said, referring to taxpayers, I assume.
Free-market, hands-off policies as regards the private sector are called libéralisme in French. The meaning of the term is just the opposite of what "liberalism" means in American English. Under the French definition, the political authorities leave private companies libres — free to do what they judge best, without government interference. Or help, in theory.
I guess all that is out the window at this point.
Here's a quote from an article in the French paper La Croix:
Selon M. Sarkozy, qui a insisté sur sa volonté d'accomplir le programme sur lequel il avait été élu en 2007, il s'agit de "mettre l'argent public dans le travail".In English, that is:
"La meilleure politique sociale, c'est celle qui permet de continuer à investir dans l'industrie. On met de l'argent au service du développement plutôt que dans dans des politiques dites sociales qui ne font que retarder le drame" des conséquences sociale de la crise, a-t-il dit.
According to Mr. Sarkozy, who insisted that he fully intends to deliver on the [free-market] policies he advocated during the 2007 election campaign, it's a matter of "putting public money into the work economy."
"The best social programs are ones that allow continuing investment in industry. We use tax monies to encourage private-sector development rather than pay for classic welfare programs that only postpone the negative effects" on employment and public well-being in times of economic crisis, he said.