Why is French President Nicolas Sarkozy leading the charge against greedy bankers? Compared with their British and U.S. counterparts, French banks have been quite solid. They needed less state help, and their bonus pools are more like puddles next to those of say, Goldman Sachs. But Sarkozy has a curious problem: good economic news. France is among the first big nations to pull out of recession. Its stock market is on the mend, banks are rolling again, and jobless numbers are steady. So why isn't Sarkozy smiling? Because no one believes the good news will last. Experts think the full extent of layoffs announced this spring and summer, which sparked boss-nappings and threats to blow up factories, has yet to register. So to preempt autumn labor discontent, Sarkozy has gone after the banks. He strong-armed BNP Paribas into halving its ¤1 billion bonus pool, then persuaded major banks to stagger bonuses over three years. Renegade banks that break the rules will be barred from getting lucrative state business. Sarkozy boasted France would set an example for G20 leaders at the Pittsburgh summit, and his tough-guy tactics are catching on with fellow European leaders. But while Sarkozy leads his anti-bonus troops into Pittsburgh, the real war to come is with Wall Street. Post-TARP, America seems content to leave its bonus culture as is. Which means that in the long run, Sarkozy and the rest of Europe may just be strengthening Wall Street's stature as a financial hub--and risking their own.
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