French minister attacks Peugeot strategy ahead of talks

France's Minister for Industrial Renewal Arnaud Montebourg attacked PSA Peugeot Citroen's corporate strategy Wednesday as he prepared to meet the carmaker's chief for talks on 8,000 jobs cuts.

"We have a real problem with Peugeot's strategy, the alliance with General Motors, the behaviour of its shareholder," Montebourg said on France Inter radio, ahead of talks later Wednesday with Peugeot boss Philippe Varin.

He said he also wanted to meet with members of the Peugeot family, which controls the company and is its top shareholder.

"I want to know what it wants to do" with Peugeot, he said, describing the company as a "national symbol".

Montebourg also said he did not have "extraordinary confidence" in Peugeot's management.

The Peugeot family reacted with a statement defending its practices.

"The Peugeot family has always given priority to the group's development and strategy, not hesitating to dilute its stake when the situation demands," it said.

Struggling with falling European sales, PSA, the biggest French carmaker and second in Europe to Germany's Volkswagen, announced last week it would cease production at its historic Aulnay plant north of Paris, which employs 3,000 people.

Another 1,400 jobs are also going at its Rennes plant and about 3,600 jobs are to be cut across the corporate structure.

The announcement sparked union anger and underlined the difficulty for French industry to compete in international markets, a key factor in the stagnation of its economy.

President Francois Hollande described the plan as "unacceptable" and his government has said it will announce a programme for supporting the automobile industry on July 25.

"We are leaning towards forms of mass support for innovative and clean vehicles, hybrids and electrics," Montebourg said.

"We have with this a very strong competitive advantage in France, with our French manufacturers," he said. "We want to push this advantage to ultimately support manufacturers working on French territory."

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