A Talk With Peugeot Ceo Jacques Calvet

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.