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The chief executive of one of France’s most prestigious exporters has called on its presidential candidates to embrace economic liberalism, saying he was sick of “communist” government.
Patrick Thomas, head of Hermès International, the luxury goods maker whose silk ties and scarves are emblematic of French style, told the Financial Times on Thursday that France needed a leader who put an emphasis on wealth creation as well as wealth distribution.
“We need a president who is convinced of liberalism and who really does it,” he said. “We are fed up with people who get elected on a liberal ticket but have a communist strategy [after they get elected].”
France goes to the polls next month in the first round of the 2007 presidential election. Many business leaders privately voice frustration at what they see as an anti-business bias in France, but few speak out so boldly.
Mr Thomas claimed that France was the “most communist country in Europe”, even though it nominally has a centre-right government. He believed there was no difference between Jacques Chirac, the president, and François Mitterand, his socialist predecessor, who nationalised chunks of the French economy.
However, Mr Thomas said that he was not sure if any of the candidates in the 2007 ballot were sufficiently supportive of the business community.
While Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right front-runner, has won over many chief executives with his belief that the French should be encouraged to work more, he also has an interventionist side.
Mr Thomas said that tax and social charges accounted for almost 75 per cent of his personal income. Further tax increases could drive wealthy people and businesses abroad, he warned. However, he said he did not want France to become as economically liberal as the UK and the US.
Hermès on Thursday announced that it made a net profit of €268m in 2006, an increase of 9 per cent on 2005. Sales rose 6 per cent to €1.5bn. Mr Thomas said Hermès hired about 500 people in France last year, helping to boost its total workforce to 6,825. A dividend of €0.95 per share has been declared, up 14 per cent on 2005.
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