F Telecom boss becomes French Finance Minister

27th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 26 (AFP) - Thierry Breton, France's new finance and economy minister, will take a big pay cut after quitting his job as head of France Telecom to take over the senior cabinet post left vacant by Herve Gaymard, who resigned in disgrace amid a luxury housing scandal.

PARIS, Feb 26 (AFP) - Thierry Breton, France's new finance and economy minister, will take a big pay cut after quitting his job as head of France Telecom to take over the senior cabinet post left vacant by Herve Gaymard, who resigned in disgrace amid a luxury housing scandal.

Breton, who formally takes up his new government position on Monday, will say goodbye to the EUR 1.35 million (USD 1.8 million) annual salary he enjoyed as the chief of one of France's biggest companies for a ministerial wage roughly one-tenth of that.

He will get a plump cushion though, in the form of a EUR 2.35 million severance package voted by the board of France Telecom - a company that is still 42.25 percent owned by the French state.

Breton, 50, was tapped by President Jacques Chirac on Friday to take over the finance and economy portfolio from Gaymard, 44, who was forced to resign after it was revealed he had been living in a huge, taxpayer-funded luxury apartment off the Champs-Elysees.

The EUR 14,000 -a-month rent for the two-storey flat was being paid out of state coffers, while he pocketed another EUR 2,300 a month from renting out his own apartment elsewhere in Paris, Gaymard admitted after media reports exposed his situation.

The minister - who had been exhorting budgetary restraint in France to bring the country's deficit back down below a ceiling imposed on eurozone countries - compounded his woes by crying poor in a magazine interview despite the fact that he owned several other properties in the country.

Breton's name had initially been floated to take over the finance and economy ministry back in November when it was vacated by Nicolas Sarkozy - who left to take over the governing conservative party as part of his strategy to become Chirac's main rival in 2007 presidential elections - but reportedly turned it down because of the pay disparity.

Before being named to bring France Telecom back from the brink of collapse in 2002, Breton was in charge of Thomson Multimedia for five years.

Like Gaymard, Breton is a close ally of Chirac.

Born January 15, 1955 in Paris, he was educated in an elite engineering institution in the French capital before going to New York where he became a teacher in a French school, then heading several small computer firms and writing science-fiction novels in his spare time.

After holding posts as a government technical advisor and as an executive in the French computer company Bull, he was elevated to the captainship of Thomson Multimedia, where he won respect for his management talents.

His move to France Telecom developed his image as a taskmaster with an eye on the bottom line, and he came up with a plan to rescue the group from its losses of EUR 12 billion and debt of EUR 70 billion at the time.

One of the unions at the company said the strategy cost "more than 27,000 jobs" but he oversaw the successful partial privatisation of France Telecom, which stands as one of the global telecoms players.

His challenges as minister are equally daunting, and include tackling France's chronically high unemployment rate - which has just hit 10 percent - as well as juggling Chirac's promise to see through tax cuts despite a deficit that breaks the three-percent-of-GDP limit imposed on eurozone countries.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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