The closure of Bridgestone, a new signal of the decline of the French industry

Published on : 17/09/2020 – 09:56

Bridgestone announced Wednesday, September 16 the closure of its tire plant in Béthune, in the north of France, a region affected by deindustrialisation. Despite the government’s commitment, the decline of French industry seems inevitable.

The regeneration of the industry is however one of the stated objectives of the 100 billion euro recovery plan announced last week by the government. To give more margin to companies that want to invest, production taxes, hitherto much higher in France than in the rest of the euro zone, have been reduced, an envelope of one billion euros has been dedicated to relocations, and the planning commission responsible for shaping the industry of the future was resuscitated under the leadership of François Bayrou. All these measures hailed by experts and business leaders alike will have long-term effects. In the immediate term, public support via short-time working and guaranteed rate loans allow companies to survive but not to fundamentally renovate. There aren’t really any tools to prevent the dreaded slaughter of industrial companies like this factory in Bridgestone. 45% of them, almost one in two, could lose money next year, warns Ernst and Young in a report released before the summer.

Is it only because of the current crisis that Bridgestone is closing this factory?

The drop in car sales brought on by the lockdown was the last straw for European tire makers. But they have been suffering for a long time. For ten years, their sales have stagnated in Europe. The decade has been marked by site closures: Continental in 2009 in Oise, Goodyear in 2014 in Amiens, and Michelin last year in Vendée. Germany is not spared. Continental announced Wednesday the closure of a factory of 1,800 employees and plans to redevelop or cut a total of 13,000 jobs. Because in this sector, the Asian newcomers cut croupiers with the historical actors. Asians hold a quarter of the market, it was only 6% 20 years ago. Faced with this competition, the Japanese group has not made the necessary investments to develop high-end products at Béthune that are much more profitable than the tires currently manufactured. The world number one in tires is therefore indeed an opportunist in the crisis, which is taking advantage of the current climate to liquidate its only French site.

And that is why this social plan arouses general indignation and can the State prevent it? ?

The region and the government are united to hold Bridgestone, a multinational that received public money during the lockdown, to account. Everyone wants to avoid social destruction at all costs, especially in this region whose industrial fabric has been disintegrating for forty years. A showdown begins, it will perhaps avoid the tragedy for the 1,500 families who will be deprived of their income from their work if the closure of the factory is confirmed. But fundamentally, injecting public money into a declining company – according to Bridgestone it is the least productive of its European factories – will not make it possible to get out of the deindustrialisation still at work. By causing the bankruptcies of more fragile people, the Covid-19 could well accelerate the contraction of French industry, which still represents 10% of gross domestic product, and roughly the same proportion of employment.

IN SHORT

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