Eszter-Petronella SOÓS PhD

29. Protectionism in France: what is the problem?

After my post about protectionism in France, a comment arrived in my mailbox. A good one. It practically said that it was rational and absolutely logical to “check out foreign capital” before it came into a country, especially when the government of the host country was a left-wing government.

But of course! As I said, many governments pay attention to incoming capital, including the federal government of the United States. Remember that the U.S. has problems with certain Chinese companies being present in the U.S., sometimes obviously for national security reasons? That is quite normal and logical: every country should have the right to keep itself safe from harm.

But this protectionism in France is not like that.

When the current French government issues a decree that says that the government shall have veto rights in certain economic decisions of companies (a decree out of the blue, I might add), it is done because the government wants to address a specific problem, it wants to influence the result of a specific negotiation of a specific company: Alstom. Protectionism in France is not strategic, it is not even a policy. There is no consistence in it. Nor is it clear: what does national interest mean? How to comply with it? Uncertain regulations are the source of all that’s wrong in an economy. Therefore, the possibility of subjective decision-making is the worst part of this decree.

Hurting the image of France among investors?

Subjective and ad hoc decision-making tends to do that surely! There is one more important argument that I want to address here: it says that the opinion of international investors is not that important, it should be secondary in the eyes of a left-wing government. I would be able to accept this argument if the French had not been crying over “French bashing” for over two years. In fact, I believe that France should decide whether the opinion of “international investors” is important or not. If it is important, protectionist streaks are harmful. If it is not important, then France should not cry over “French bashing”. There is no middle way.