21 February 2013 Last updated at 10:41 ET
A French minister has responded angrily to the boss of US tyremaker Titan who said he would have to be “stupid” to invest in the country.
Maurice Taylor made the claims in a letter to France’s minister for industrial recovery, Arnaud Montebourg.
On Thursday, Mr Montebourg replied that Mr Taylor’s “extreme” comments showed a “perfect ignorance of what our country is”.
He added that 20,000 foreign firms are in France, employing 2 million people.
Mr Taylor – a former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 – was replying to a request for Titan to consider investing in a loss-making Goodyear plant in Amiens, north France.
“I have visited that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but only works three hours,” Mr Taylor said in the letter, dated 8 February, and published by French business daily Les Echos on Wednesday.
“They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!”
On Thursday, he told Le Figaro: “I didn’t want to insult the French. I wanted to say that the union at the factory in Amiens has a screw loose.
“If the French workers work, they will be as competitive as the Germans, British or the Americans. The problem is that the French are too expensive because of their particular benefits.”
Mr Taylor is nicknamed “the Grizz” for his bear-like no-nonsense style. He added: “How stupid do you think we are?”
French unions had blasted the content of his letter.
The spat has been front page news in France and caused lots of discussion over “le French bashing” on social media over the past few days.
In his response, Mr Montebourg said: “May I point out that Titan, the company you lead, is 20 times smaller than Michelin, our French leader of international influence, and 35 times less profitable?”
The minister added that 4,200 subsidiaries of US firms employed more than 500,000 people in France and that some firms had been around since 1842.
He went on to praise the efforts of young US soldiers in World War II and the current efforts of President Barack Obama to stop deindustrialisation in the US.
This is not the first row that Mr Montebourg has been involved in since the Socialists took charge of the presidency last summer.
He accused steelmaker Arcelor Mittal of “lying” and “disrespecting” the country and said it was no longer welcome during a spat over the closure of two furnaces at its steel plant in Florange.
France has a 35-hour statutory working week, brought in by the Socialist Party in 2000, but critics say it is now stifling economic growth.
BBC News – Business
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