PARIS -- French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger in the French presidential vote, Marine Le Pen, on Friday both decried as “shocking” the multimillion euro payout to the CEO of carmaker Stellantis.
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares’ remuneration package of 19.15 million euros just a year after the company was formed became an issue as Macron and Le Pen campaigned ahead of the April 24 runoff vote. Polls show purchasing power and inflation are a top voter concern.
Stellantis, formed last year through the merger of PSA Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, sought Friday to defend Tavares’ work in turning around the fortunes of the French carmaker — and his pay package.
Macron, a centrist perceived by many left-wing voters as being too pro-business, called the pay package “astronomical” and pushed for a Europe-wide effort to set ceilings on “abusive” executive pay.
“It’s shocking, it’s excessive,” he said Friday on broadcaster France-Info.
“People can’t have problems with purchasing power, difficulties, the anguish they’re living with, and see these sums. Otherwise, society will explode.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who enjoys support from many working-class voters, said: “Of course it’s shocking, and it’s even more shocking when it is the CEOs who have pushed their society into difficulty."
“One of the ways to diminish this pay, which is often out of proportion with economic life, is perhaps to allow workers in as shareholders," she said Friday on BFM television.
Stellantis continued to back the package despite a 52.1% to 47.9% vote rejecting it at an annual shareholders' meeting chaired from the Netherlands, where the company is legally based, on Wednesday. The company, citing Dutch civil code, noted that the vote is advisory and not binding.
Stellantis said in a statement that it took note of the vote, and will explain in an upcoming 2022 remuneration report “how this vote has been taken into account.”
In a new statement Friday, the company outlined Tavares’ work in pulling PSA, owner of Peugeot and Citroen, out of “near bankruptcy.”
It said Stellantis’ success “made it possible to redistribute 1.9 billion euros to employees (+70% compared to 2020), i.e. as much as to shareholders.” It said Tavares’ pay is “lower for example than that of GM or Ford, and should be considered in view of the size and performance of the company he heads.”
In the 2021 report, the company identified peer group companies that it used as a salary benchmark, including U.S. companies like Boeing, Exxon Mobile, General Electric as well as carmakers Ford and General Motors.
Stellantis, whose brands include Peugeot, Fiat, Jeep, Opel and Maserati, reported net profits last year had tripled to 13.4 billion euros ($15.2 billion).
The French government is the third-largest shareholder in Stellantis, with a 6.15% stake through the Bpifrance Participations S.A. French public investment bank.
Barry reported from Milan.