Exclusive: Renault boss sees pay row with French government in election year

Fri Nov 18, 2016 9:19am EST
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By Joseph White and Laurence Frost

NEW YORK/PARIS (Reuters) - Renault (RENA.PA: Quote) Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn expects the French government to oppose his pay package in 2017, he told Reuters in an interview, setting the stage for another shareholder meeting clash - this time in an election year.

"I don't think there's any chance that they will approve" Renault's pay proposals, Ghosn said of the likely government position. The economy and finance ministry declined to comment.

Ghosn nonetheless hopes to avoid a repeat of the last annual meeting outcome in April, when investors with 54 percent of voting rights opposed his 7.2 million euro ($7.6 million) pay. "Our objective is to have a majority vote," he said.

The French state owns 19.7 percent of Renault. Under a complex deal struck last year, its voting rights on routine questions including compensation are capped between 17.9 percent and 20 percent, depending on meeting attendance.

Executive pay is attracting tougher shareholder scrutiny at companies from HSBC (HSBA.L: Quote) to BP (BP.L: Quote) and has become a hot political issue in France, where campaigning is well underway for presidential and legislative elections next April-June.

The French parliament last week passed a law granting shareholders a binding vote on CEO pay structures, starting next year, and on actual payouts from 2018. Until now, French "say on pay" votes have lacked legal force.

After the April 29 shareholder vote, Renault's board reconvened hastily and decided to uphold Ghosn's 2015 package, while pledging a review of future pay policy.

The immediacy of its response intensified French criticism of Ghosn, who draws a second salary as CEO of alliance partner Nissan (7201.T: Quote), 44.5 percent-owned by the French carmaker.   Continued...

Chairman and CEO of Nissan and Renault Carlos Ghosn pauses as he attends a news conference in Beijing, July 26, 2011.  REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo