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The State as shareolder

COUR DES COMPTES

Is the State a good shareholder? To answer this question using a strictly pragmatic approach, the Cour des comptes reviewed State shareholdings in companies over the period 2010-2016. It defined State Shareholder in a broad sense to include: the Agence des participations de l’État (APE), the Caisse des dépôts et consignations (CDC), and Bpifrance. In France, public shareholdings in companies have long been a well-developed way of participating in the economy. The State’s presence as a company shareholder is justified not only for ownership or financial reasons, but also on public policy grounds. As a result, there are contradictions
between multiple objectives that the State has difficulty overcoming. The reviews done by the Cour des comptes show that the State has difficulty being a good shareholder. Despite undeniable improvements, chronic weaknesses remain, notably in the area of governance. Public shareholding rarely proves the best-adapted means of contending with the decline in competitiveness and the shrinking industrial sector in the French economy. Moreover, the growing financial needs of state-owned companies are going to place a heavy burden on public budgets in the next few years.
The Cour des comptes calls for clarification of the objectives pursued, a commitment to radically transforming corporate governance, and a limitation of investments by the State to what is strictly necessary.