Emmanuel Macron has launched an assault on highly paid bosses as he battles the populist policies of Marine Le Pen, his Hard-Right challenger for the French presidency.
He vowed to seek a pay cap on “astronomic” rewards for chief executives in a bid to woo voters on the left ahead of the second round of the presidential election on April 24.
In a radio interview on Friday, Mr Macron joined criticism of the decision by Vauxhall and Citroen owner Stellantis to pay its chief, Carlos Tavares, more than €19m (£15.7m) last year.
“It’s shocking, it’s excessive,” said the French President, a former investment banker, who called for a limit to be imposed by the European Union.
“We need to have ceilings and governance in our Europe that makes things acceptable, otherwise society, at one point, will explode,” he said. “Without framing them in a range, we should be able to put a cap.”
Salaries at the level that Mr Tavares received were hard for ordinary people having trouble making ends meet to accept, he said, tapping into one of the main election themes.
“We need to convince our European partners of the need for a reform that frames the remuneration of our executives,” Mr Macron added.
He went further than Ms Le Pen, who also called Mr Tavares’s pay shocking, but ruled out any limits on what bosses earn.
The comments by both candidates has brought the issue of executive pay to the forefront of the French election campaign.
It reflects a similar incident in the last presidential election in 2017, when the salary of Renault chief Carlos Ghosn became a hot button issue before the presidential vote. His pay was also opposed by the French state.
Both Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen are vying for the 7.7m voters who backed far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round of the election.
Stellantis was formed last year by the merger of France’s PSA Group, which also owned Peugeot, with Italy’s Fiat Chrysler. Because it is based in the Netherlands, the company is not subject to French rules requiring binding shareholder votes on executive pay.
On Wednesday shareholders rejected its pay policy in a non-binding vote at its annual meeting. France’s state-backed investment bank, Bpifrance, was among the investors who voted against the plans.
Stellantis issued a statement on Friday justifying the compensation based on Mr Tavares’s turnaround of PSA and spearheading the merger. The remuneration is 90pc variable and less than his peers at General Motors and Ford, it added.