The new French cabinet provides a step up for Arnaud Montebourg, one of Europe’s most interesting modern politicians.
He moves from his position as minister of productive renewal (an industrial position) to become economy minister, taking some of deposed finance chief Pierre Moscovici’s turf.
It’s fair to say that Montebourg’s general worldview may not be entirely in line with City A.M. - the minister recently said:
All the people who say that France is bad, has problems, they watch too much TV. Or they read with excess, the Economist, which is a specialist of French-bashing. I call them the Charlie Hebdo [satirical French magazine] of the City.
The ardent left-winger isn’t a big fan of the strong euro, or the German influence at the European Central Bank. He’s also not afraid to dangle the threat of a old-time nationalisation in front of a big firm, something that hasn’t happened in the UK for a long time. Montebourg’s also an open opponent of globalisation, pushing for a more protectionist EU.
However, Montebourg is a fan of George Osborne’s, at least in part, though the chancellor has not yet trumpeted the new economy minister’s warm feelings towards his policies. Montebourg spoke about the UK approach to The Times last year:
It’s a tough policy in budgetary terms but very flexible in monetary terms and that is what we need in Europe. We are, ourselves, in favour of budgetary seriousness. Paying your debts is the normal thing to do. On the other hand, we need a European Central Bank that follows the example of the Bank of England, which, as I recall, makes out cheques for billions of pounds to Mr Osborne.
Berenberg’s Christian Schulz told us despite that promotion, Michel Sapin, who was finance minister between 1992 and 1993, would be in the driving seat. Montebourg’s authority comes from his position on the political spectrum and within the French Socialist Party rather than from being economy minister, which is a second-fiddle position in European politics.
From a German perspective a lot of the rhetoric we’ve seen from him in the past about austerity and ECB polices, the exchange rate and role of the private sector are worrying. But he’s not been put in charge with negotiations about the budget - that’s what Sapin will do and that’s wise. The key reason he’s there is that it’s shrewd for Hollande - Montebourg has a lot of credibility as a left-winger - if he signs up, wider left support for reforms will be kept up.
Schulz also said, perhaps refreshingly for some, and unlike others on the European left, Montebourg “doesn’t seem to be much of an ecologist” - he has previously voiced moderate support for hydraulic fracturing for shale gas. Fracking is currently banned in France, so Montebourg is an outsider on the issue.
The position doesn’t mean an enormous elevation to power for the minister, but it’s a symbol of his current trajectory, and he’s one to watch.