“Your words, as extremist as they are insulting, are evidence of perfect ignorance of our country, France,” Montebourg wrote in a letter made public Thursday.
When Taylor’s letter to him hit the headlines, the minister said he was refraining from comment so as not harm French commercial interests.
But irritation seems to have got the better of him and he has let rip in a reply that is almost as virulent as the missive that inspired it.
“You declare your intention of investing in certain low labour-cost countries so as to swamp our markets,” Montebourg writes.
Countries are bound to react against such “reprehensible” calculations, he argues, adding, “Rest assured that you can count on me to have your imported tyres monitored by the relevant French government departments with redoubled zeal.”
Interviewed after the publication of his letter, Taylor complained that it is impossible to suspend or fire French workers and predicted that there will soon be no jobs in France and “everybody will be spending the day sitting in cafés drinking red wine”.
Titan dropped an proposal that it might take over a Goodyear plant in Amiens, northern France, last year and Taylor scornfully rejected a government proposal to restart talks this year.
Montebourg replied that 4,200 US subsidiaries employ 500,000 workers in France thanks to the “quality and productivity of French labour”.
He also tries to put the Titan boss in his place by pointing out that French tyre-maker Michelin, which Taylor predicted will soon be out of business, is 20 times the size of his company and 35 times more profitable.
Amid the press frenzy caused by Taylor’s letter, Thursday's Aujourd’hui/Le Parisien paper published figures, based on statistics produced by the OECD, Eurostat and the US Bureau of Statistics that show:
- French productivity in 2011 at 45.4 euros per hour, higher than Germany, the US, Italy and the UK;
- Labour costs, calculated on the basis of wages and social security charges, among the highest in the European Union, but below Belgium, Sweden and Denmark;
- Average hours worked per year at 1,476, below the US, Italy and the UK but higher than Germany.