Peugeot's acerbic chairman, Jacques Calvet, is one of Europe's most outspoken CEOs. He has irked business colleagues by preaching protectionism and opposing Europe's Maastricht Treaty on monetary union. The 64-year-old Calvet has just a year left at the helm of France's largest auto company, but his views are as piquant as ever. Samples from a recent interview with BUSINESS WEEK:
Q: Weak currencies in Italy, Spain, and Britain cost Peugeot $250 million in operating profit last year. So how can you oppose a single European currency?
A: I don't oppose it--why do people say that? I'm simply against Maastricht. It treats money as a technical problem, like agriculture or coal. We need an economic policy union first, then a common currency. Maastricht puts the cart before the horse. In any case, Europe can't afford to wait for a single currency. Business needs a stable monetary system long before the Maastricht goal of 1999. We must solve the problem of widely fluctuating exchange rates as soon as possible.
Q: Why is European unity moving so slowly?
A: Fear of the USSR was the best cement for European union. Since then, union has become a desire, no longer a necessity. That makes it 100 times tougher.
Q: What does European industry need to get more competitive?
A: Greater labor flexibility. Under European rules [limiting factory hours], Peugeot and Citroen have a production capacity of 1.9 million cars. If we could follow U.S. rules of three shifts, six days a week, our capacity would be 3 million cars. It's astonishing that politicians don't see this.
Q: If you favor Europe's borderless market, why have you tried in court to block people from buying cars wherever they're cheapest?
A: I don't dispute the right of consumers to buy a car in any country they choose. But when a company buys cars cheaper in Italy and then advertises them for sale in France, that's unfair competition [for French dealers].
Q: Why are you often at odds with others in your industry?
A: I admit I'm very French and very nationalistic. People call me a man of the 19th century. But that's a false reputation; it's not true at all. I simply have to be convinced about things like Maastricht.