Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Qui êtes-vous pour m'appeler un lâche ? Vous Paon.
French PM Apologizes for His Outburst

PARIS (AP) -- France's prime minister apologized Wednesday for calling the opposition Socialist leader a coward in parliament a day earlier during an outburst over financial problems at the parent company of Airbus.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin grew visibly agitated after Socialist leader Francois Hollande accused the government of irresponsibility and questioned him about problems at European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which has seen its stock tumble after Airbus announced delays in its much-touted A380 superjumbo jet and questions surfaced about top executives selling off shares.

"Mr. Hollande, I denounce your facile approach - and I will even say this looking you in the eyes - the cowardice in your attitude," Villepin said Tuesday. "I'll say it again: cowardice."

Outraged left-wing lawmakers in France's National Assembly responded by jumping from their chairs, booing and shouting, "Resign, resign!" The unusual uproar caused the body's president to interrupt the session.

"If some words personally injured you, I regret them and I take them back," Villepin told lawmakers Wednesday during a question-and-answer session in the National Assembly, with Hollande looking on.

The apology was as uncharacteristic for Villepin as the initial outburst. He was often praised for his polish and eloquence before a series of crises this spring battered his reputation.

French media made much out of the name-calling, with television and radio stations repeatedly running clips of the incident. Although outbursts are frequent in the National Assembly, the intensity of Tuesday's was rare.

Villepin called Wednesday for "respect" and "dialogue," and Socialist lawmaker Jean-Marc Ayrault acknowledged the apology.

Villepin's approval ratings have been sliding since he tried to push through a youth jobs plan this spring, sparking huge street demonstrations and student strikes at many universities.

The Franco-German showcase company EADS is one of the premier symbols of European industrial cooperation.

During the debate on the company, Villepin pledged to review EADS' French-German ownership and management structure. The French government, which owns 15 percent of EADS, is likely to seek changes to the shareholder pact underpinning the company, he told lawmakers. After that announcement, the company's stock rose sharply.

Pressure has been mounting on Noel Forgeard, French co-CEO of EADS, since it was learned he was among six EADS executives who exercised stock options just weeks before management ordered an internal assessment of production hitches for the A380 superjumbo jet...

Poor old Dominique, it’s bad enough that France is overflowing with recalcitrant workers, unions, students, and “youths” but to have the “Franco-German showcase company” circling the porcelain bowl…

Perhaps another of de Villepin’s polished and eloquent dialogues will do the trick this time.

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