Prime minister urges "strategic vision" for sector and pledges to boost defence

The French state will not remain a shareholder in EADS and Thales at current levels, French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told aerospace leaders gathered for the official closing of the Paris air show on 21 June. But he stressed that industrial projects rather than the calendar would guide the state's withdrawal.

Speaking just a week before a change in Thales' shareholding pact and a month before amendments to EADS's arrangement, Raffarin told the senior executives that he is not convinced that the French state is always an excellent shareholder.

"We do not have the vocation, in the long term, to remain one at current levels," he said, adding, "the evolution of this shareholding will be made at the opportune moment, based on precise strategic visions".

He said: "Our strategy is not based on the calendar but on industrial projects and this is what will guide us. We cannot build this industry, which needs transparency and visibility, by hesitant decisions taken every year in an evident lack of strategic vision."

He told industry leaders that they should concentrate on completing their companies' internal restructurings, as opposed to seeking to buy more companies, with the exception of the space launch sector and the satellite sector which should aim towards a "single European actor, capable of ensuring a viable and perennial presence on a profoundly modified world market". Alcatel and EADS are vying for leadership of a reorganised satellite sector.

Raffarin agreed with French industry group Gifas's suggestion that a working party be set up to identify French aerospace strengths and weaknesses, to analyse the opportunities and threats and to identify strategic options to be submitted to the government. Such a group should be led by an "independent and recognised personality".

Raffarin said he knew the state had to supply more money to ensure the sector's development and noted that France's efforts to stop the slide in defence spending were "good for industry, but also for our foreign policy".

He added: "Do we really believe that France's voice can be heard if we do not show the world we are capable of making the necessary efforts to ensure our own defence?"

Source: Flight International