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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 July, 2003, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
French MPs slam state firms
By Dominic Di-Natale
In Paris

A French parliamentary commission has launched a scathing attack on some of the country's biggest state owned firms.

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The chairman of Electricite de France has been criticised for investing too much in risky foreign ventures, and France Telecom's strategy of international expansion was described as "ill considered" and "over-hasty".

The French are fond of flying their flag - one of many symbols of national pride in this deeply traditional country.

So when it comes to criticising the national symbol of public services - something the French feel is a basic right - it's always bound to cause a stir.

Written off

The parliamentary commission slammed Electricite de France's chief executive Francois Roussely for what it called a "surprisingly imprudent" strategy that has weakened the company.

The report says that controversial ventures in Italy and Argentina were excessive financial risks and that Mr Roussely failed to take the extent of danger into account.

Its investment in Argentina has had to be completely written off because of the economic crisis there.

But observers say the reason for the attack is that right-wing politicians want Mr Roussely to be sacked.

"This report is triggered by political motivations. As a left-wing manager, Francois Roussely is the ideal scapegoat for the deputies," said Pascal Pogam of La Tribune newspaper.

Impetus to privatisation

But it's not just EdF that's come under criticism. The report also targets France Telecom and the strategy of former boss Michel Bon.

The commission said the phone company's rapid expansion was "ill-considered and over-hasty" - especially when it came to its 3.7bn euro investment in Germany's troubled Mobilcom.

What the report will do is add further impetus to the sudden acceleration of France's privatisation programme.

The right-wing government is eager to sell off its stakes in companies such as France Telecom and EdF because it's becoming too expensive to own them.

Employee rights, pensions, a lack of management control - plus pressure from the European Union to end the monopolies - means it's time the sell-off started in earnest.

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