TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -The arrest of Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has triggered new attempts by the Japanese carmaker to shake off the control of its French parent - adding to the problems piling up on President Emmanuel Macron’s desk in the Elysee Palace.
But this one, more than most, may be of Macron’s own making.
In April 2015, as a 37 year-old economy minister with then-unknown presidential ambitions, Macron ordered a surprise government stake increase in Renault, designed to secure double voting rights for the state. The overnight move profoundly rattled the Japanese end of the Renault-Nissan alliance.
In the ensuing eight-month boardroom fight between Macron’s ministry and Hiroto Saikawa - Nissan’s second-in-command at the time - many now see the seeds of today’s crisis.
When Ghosn’s Gulfstream touched down in Tokyo on Nov. 19, prosecutors were waiting. Nissan, the company he rescued from bankruptcy and had overseen for almost two decades, outlined allegations of financial misconduct against its chairman and said governance had been eroded by Renault’s control.
Saikawa has since contested Renault’s right to appoint executives and directors under the alliance master agreement, in correspondence seen by Reuters. Such fundamental differences now threaten the future of the partnership, which rivals Volkswagen and Toyota on the global auto industry stage.
“President Macron himself has skin in the game,” Max Warburton, an analyst with New York-based asset manager AllianceBernstein, said this week.
“He must recognize that his decision in 2015 to increase the French state’s holding in Renault ... likely impacted Japanese perceptions of the alliance and heightened concerns that Nissan was ultimately within the control of the French government.”
The Elysee declined to comment, but an adviser said the president had “no regrets” about the events of 2015.
Macron, who surged to victory in elections last year to became France’s youngest president, now finds himself battling street protests and record low approval ratings. The Renault-Nissan crisis may draw more attention to the risks of his bold interventionism, once seen as refreshing.
The year before his move on Renault, the government under Socialist President Francois Hollande had passed the Florange law. Named after a steel furnace whose closure became a symbol of decline, it doubled voting rights for long-term investors - chief among them the French state - in any listed companies that did not opt out via a shareholder vote.
Over several months starting in late 2014, Macron, a former Rothschild dealmaker, tried in vain to dissuade Ghosn and the Renault board from proposing an opt-out at the company’s April 30 general meeting. With a 15 percent stake in the carmaker and an only slightly larger share of the vote, the government seemed likely to lose such a face-off.
Then, on the evening of April 7, Macron called Ghosn to let him know - as a courtesy - that the state had bought another 4.73 percent of Renault for 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion), would announce its maneuver in the morning and planned to sell back down to 15 percent only after defeating his opt-out.