It is not only a common passion for jazz that Philippe Camus and Woody Allen share. On Thursday, the outgoing French co-chief executive of EADS seemed to be walking straight off one of Woody Allen's typically existentialist films.

For his last New Year press conference before moving on to help orchestrate Lagardère's media strategy, he chose the unconventional format of a television chat show to allow him to vent his frustrations in his deceptively mild-mannered fashion.

After all, he helped turn EADS into a success for all the difficulties of its joint Franco-German leadership structure. There was no objective reason to replace him, other than to make way for the voracious ambitions of a long-standing colleague. Mr Camus quickly dismissed criticisms that he was too much a financier rather than an industrialist, just as Woody Allen describes as myth the idea that he is an intellectual because he wears glasses.

In the ugly campaign that ultimately unseated him, he was not an actor but "a victim and target". He says the EADS board never discussed his replacement. His opponents manipulated the press in a pitiful political fashion that made France look "ridiculous" and was no model of corporate governance.

The affair risks leaving lasting scars on an otherwise big European industrial achievement. He admits he was probably naïve, but Mr Camus says he never realised how low human nature could go.

Woody Allen would have told him: "Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable."

Call my bluff

Back from Detroit, Sergio Marchionne, Fiat chief executive, is due to report to Luca di Montezemolo, chairman, in Turin on Friday on the state of play in his negotiations with General Motors. Judging from the nail-biting game of bluff in which both sides are engaged, the Fiat bosses risk losing their appetite even before they sit down to lunch.

So far, Mr Marchionne has held the strongest cards by threatening to exercise Fiat's put option to force GM to buy the 90 per cent of Fiat's troubled car division it does not already own, failing a friendly agreement. The last thing GM wants - with huge problems of its own, especially in Europe - is to be saddled with Fiat Auto.

But as the January 24 deadline nears, Mr Marchionne's position weakens. Richard Wagoner, his GM counterpart, knows that. So it is in his interest to take the negotiations to the wire in the hope of persuading the Italians to cut their financial demands for cancelling the option.

For if the talks fail, the two companies will be embroiled in a prolonged legal battle over Fiat's right to exercise the option and the valuation of its car business.

The problem will become even more acute for Mr Montezemolo in his dual role as Fiat chairman and head of Italy's influential employers' confederation. The very mention of Fiat selling its car business to GM is already sending the Italian unions and the political system into meltdown.

VW's payroll politicians

Volkswagen is wise to seek to defuse Germany's outbreak of angst about political influence by scrapping its practice of paying salaries to employees who leave for full-time politics and revealing the names of those on its payroll.

Other companies would also be well advised to reconsider their practices. Above all, new rules are needed for all Germany's parliamentarians about what activities are compatible with holding office.

These should aim to raise standards, currently among the laxest in Europe, to the best practice of transparency and probity.

They should make clear that politicians are elected to serve the public, and remove any suspicion that they may be acting as paid lobbyists for commercial interests.

Companies such as RWE, Siemens and Dresdner Bank have been caught up in the controversy but VW is the most sensitive case because its influence extends so deep.

It is among the most powerful lobbyists in Europe and is perfectly able to rally politicians to its cause without hidden payments.

Look at how keen Berlin is to fend off attacks by the European Commission on the "Volkswagen law" that protects it from takeover.

The traditional reluctance of Germany's politicians and business people to disclose their earnings is under pressure as the public feels the pain of unemployment and economic reform.

There is no way of turning back to the paternalistic past.

Get alerts on Columnists when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article