The ambiguous partnership : Elf Aquitaine and the French government 1976-1986
This thesis explores the relationship of collaboration and conflict between France's state-owned oil group, the Societe Nationale Elf Aquitaine, and successive governments during the critical decade, 1976-1986, before wide-scale privatisation was initiated. The group's development reflects the broader trend in government - industry relations away from dirigisme to market economics by both senior managers and politicians alike. Created as an instrument of government with a "national interest" mission, the group was expected to work for and with governments. This partnership was conditioned by the international nature of the oil industry. Directly exposed to the impact of the oil crisis, the group suffered from the switch made in France from oil to nuclear energy as the main source of power. This development accelerated not only the diversification of the group's product range and multinationalisation of its activities but also modified its relations with government. It remained in public ownership, but became financially independent and acted increasingly like a private company. Governments were also affected by the economic crises of the 1970s, and by France's closer integration into Europe. While Elf maximised its profits, governments relied on the oil group's wealth. This confusing combination of dependence and governments' use of their powers of ownership produced many conflicts. Yet Elf's leaders could also exploit the state link through grand corps networks to achieve their own goals. These ambiguities were sharpened during the decade because Elf was shifting between two modes of relationship; an instrument of government enjoying privileged links with the state and an independent private multinational. Partial privatisation in 1986 somewhat resolved the contradictions but heralded new challenges. Under the impact of the Single Market programme and GATT agreements, French governments divested themselves of powers they could no longer exercise, French firms shifted partnership with the state to partnership with foreign firms and the development of each individual firm became subject to its performance in the market.