Some unfortunate places in the world are starved of investment; but only a politician in France can claim to have literally starved for investment. In what might be the most radical investment promotion strategy ever used, a parliamentary representative for the Pyrenees went on a 39-day hunger strike to force a Japanese company to reinvest in his constituency. The only tragedy is that the ploy worked.

Toyal, a subsidiary of Osaka-based Toyo Aluminium, had not attempted to close its Accous plant; it merely announced plans to build a second factory in a nearby town. For Jean Lassalle, a deputy in the UDF party, this smacked of betrayal. He ensconced himself in the National Assembly building in Paris, where he received such visitors as prime minister Dominique de Villepin and shed nearly 50lbs. He ended up in hospital, and the French government ended up agreeing to compensate Toyo for the money it wasted on its new plant site.


Mr Lassalle triumphed. Within days, he was digesting whole foods and, reportedly, asking doctors for a glass of red wine. Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy announced on the radio that a “happy ending” had been reached and said: “Once Accous is full, the Toyal company retains the freedom to invest wherever it likes in France.” Perhaps he thought he was being gracious.

Why Toyal would conceive of such a notion after this affair is a different matter. And why any company would consider setting up a plant on Mr Lassalle’s turf, knowing that it could face similar emotional blackmail if it dared to pull out, is beyond imagining.

A hunger strike would not be nearly as effective in convincing investors to come as it was in forcing them to stay. As Japan’s ambassador to France remarked: “Japanese investors will hesitate to settle here, for fear of being held hostage.”

Mr Lassalle may toast his victory with a nice glass of red but the damage done to corporate perceptions of his part of France, and perhaps the rest of the country, will last much longer than his five-week fast. Bon appetit!