PARIS - The chairman of Peugeot and French opposition leaders slammed the government Friday for attacking the carmaker over huge job cuts, saying the Socialists were damaging one the country's most important companies.
PSA Peugeot Citroen Chairman Thierry Peugeot said the government was putting the company, the biggest French carmaker and second in Europe to Germany's Volkswagen, in a "dangerous" position with its attacks.
"We are ready to accept criticism, but there are limits," Peugeot said in an interview with Le Figaro.
"The attacks the company is currently facing have an immediate effect on (investor) perception. This is a dangerous situation," Peugeot said.
Asked if he feared a hostile takeover bid after PSA's shares fell by 18 percent following the job cuts announcement, Peugeot said: "Anything is possible. So we must act."
Former prime minister Francois Fillon meanwhile accused the government of being "irresponsible" and said France's Minister for Industrial Renewal Arnaud Montebourg was "shooting those on the front line of the (economic) battle in the back."
Struggling with falling European sales, Peugeot announced last week it would cut 8,000 jobs in France and cease production at its historic Aulnay plant north of Paris.
President Francois Hollande, elected in May on a platform of promoting growth, denounced the plan as "unacceptable" and said it would have to be renegotiated.
Montebourg, a stalwart of the Socialists' left-wing, said Wednesday the government had "a real problem with Peugeot's strategy" and that he did not have "extraordinary confidence" in the company's management.
On Friday, Fillon, who was prime minister until mid May, fired back on Europe 1 radio, asking: "What is this attitude that consists of slapping down, denouncing and raising suspicions about a company that is in the first tier in the battle over globalisation?"
Jean-Francois Cope, the leader of the main opposition party UMP, said the government was threatening not only Peugeot but France's entire economy.
"Challenging a company's image to this degree... threatens thousands of companies, thousands of jobs," he told France 2 television.
"Did you see the collapse in Peugeot's stock prices?" Cope asked. "Mr. Montebourg is undermining our economy."
In the Figaro interview Peugeot defended the job cuts, saying the company was "forced to adapt" and "cannot stand by and do nothing" in the face of falling European sales.
"We are well aware of the seriousness of the plan to cut 8,000 jobs. These measures are painful, I understand they can cause shock within the company, the government and the whole of the country," he said.
He added that the Peugeot family, which holds 25 percent of PSA's capital, had "total unanimity" on the company's strategy and confidence in chief Philippe Varin.
Peugeot's decision sparked fierce anger among unions, who denounced it as a "declaration of war", and highlighted France's difficulties competing on the international labour market.
It dealt a blow to Hollande's efforts to get France's economy back on track amid concerns the country could be heading for a recession after an expected contraction in the second quarter.
France's trade deficit remains high and ministers have raised concerns that low competitiveness is stifling the economy and hampering job creation.
In May, French industrial orders fell by 1.7 percent, official data showed on Friday, with auto orders off by an even more substantial 3.1 percent.
The government has named an expert to look at Peugeot's finances and will next Wednesday announce a programme to reboot the automobile sector -- including "massive support" for high-tech and environmentally friendly vehicles.
Montebourg was to meet representatives of Peugeot and France's other leading carmaker Renault on Friday for talks on the programme.