Who to steer the state shareholder? Bercy’s puzzle to replace Martin Vial at the head of the APE

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Who to take over from Martin Vial at the State Participation Agency (APE)? Officially, the Ministry of Finance, which oversees it, only has a few days left to find…

But if he takes his time, it is because this position is one of the most important and prestigious in the state. It consists in managing the portfolio of the State shareholder. He intervenes in capital files and as exposed as EDF, SNCF, or Renault, Air France-KLM, Engie. It is up to the APE to stabilize the capital of these groups when they experience difficulties, as was the case during the Covid crisis, but also to support them in their development and transformation.

The ideal candidate is a real five-legged sheep

And, according to our information, Bercy is having a hard time recruiting the right candidate.

“It is very difficult to find someone for this job, recognizes a member of the cabinet of the Ministry of Finance. You need a profile that has it underfoot, not too junior… at the same time a good technician, endowed with a keen political sense. »

And to add:

“It is also necessary to know the public apparatus and the private sector very well, to be accustomed to financial engineering. »

130 billion euros of assets to manage

In total, no less than 130 billion euros of assets are committed.

Thus, Stéphanie Besnier, number two in this administration for a year, will be in charge of acting on the departure of Martin Vial, until his successor is appointed. But, at 44, she is considered too young to be fully entrusted with the mandate.

Also circulating the name of Alexis Zajdenweber. Forty-something, too, he is one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest advisers, also close to Alexis Kohler, the president’s right arm. “But, there too, some consider him still a little young”, still pleads a source in Bercy. The Élysée would tend to push this candidacy, while the Ministry of Finance would be more mixed.

A high risk of conflicts of interest

But, beyond the standoff that is played out between the Palace and the octopus Bercy, remains a difficulty and not the least to attract applicants: “It’s a job that nobody wants because then your career is very limited”, underlines a source at the Ministry of the Economy. “It’s difficult, after the APE, to join the private sector, you quickly find yourself in conflicts of interest.” And for good reason, the public authorities are currently present in the capital of 83 companies, including ten listed on the stock exchange.

Finally, it is without counting on all the challenges that await the successor of Martin Vial. Most of the sectors where the State is still present – aeronautics, automotive, transport, energy – are today in great difficulty. It is therefore up to them to consolidate them, but also to negotiate with the European Commission to carry out a certain number of operations. Not easy, again.

The roadmap of Martin Vial’s successor

In this context, Matin Vial transmitted its roadmap to Emmanuel Macron. He will send it tomorrow to Bruno Le Maire during their interview. At 68, this senior official, who spent seven years at the APE – one of the longest terms – wanted to bow out.

His recommendations for the EPA: invest in sovereignty, to avoid the arrival of foreign investors, and preserve decision-making centers in France, know how to support major public services, come to their aid if necessary, etc. This is what the APE has done massively to save, in 2020, during the Covid crisis, Air France KLM, but also Renault or SNCF. Between June 2020 and June 2021, it injected more than 11 billion euros into its holdings.

Some of these companies are, however, far from being out of business, and the APE will probably still have to play firefighters.

Another major challenge: supporting these companies to help them achieve the ecological transition. The financing needs are enormous and indeed the investment doctrine of the APE, in the words of Martin Vial “must adapt, to face these technological, environmental, but also digital challenges”.

Finally, in a context of acute international tensions, against a backdrop of war between Ukraine and Russia, Martin Vial assures us, “economic sovereignty must be a guide for the next few years”while recalling this winter that “the APE must think about the evolution of its holdings”. It remains to be seen, therefore, where to put the cursor, the trend since the pandemic not being, however, too strong a disengagement of the State, quite the contrary.

One of the folders at the top of the stack: EDF

Not to mention that one of the folders at the top of the stack is EDF. While the state still has 84% ​​of the capital, the group is experiencing setbacks, between reactor closures and delays in the construction of new EPRs. And, despite a rise in the power of the State at the start of the year, the energy company is accumulating problems, at a time when electricity prices are soaring and when, more than ever, France is seeking to ensure its energy independence. Very political, this file annoys at the highest level of the State. What give a few cold sweats to the next boss of the APE.