THE BATTLE was lost before the three meetings in Paris began on April 7 (RG 4.04 p181). Eurotunnel revealed on April 6 that proxy votes placed with the Chairman and his fellow directors were far fewer than the mandates held by Nicholas Miguet, who inspired this astonishing rebellion among 1·1 million French shareholders.

Miguet and his candidate directors had been entrusted with 19% of the 1008 million votes registered, compared to 8% held by the platform party. Chairman-elect Philippe Bourguignon, who was expected to replace Charles Mackay as Chairman of Eurotunnel’s Joint Board, withdrew on April 6.

Around 3000 of the 4222 shareholders who had registered to attend actually turned up, and when Miguet appeared surrounded by reporters and TV crews they leapt to their feet shouting and screaming like hysterical teenagers at a rock concert. This extraordinary event - unprecedented in French company history - went on for 9hours.

The directors on the platform were given a rough ride, making it almost impossible to conduct business in the normal way. Every kind of personal insult was hurled at the hapless directors in general and Chief Executive Richard Shirrefs in particular. Resolutions that usually go through on the nod were voted down out in childish spite, so that Eurotunnel found itself without auditors and the 2003 accounts were not approved. The Paris Commercial Court appointed auditors to Eurotunnel SA on April 16.

During the General Meeting of Eurotunnel SA convened by order of this court, the first resolution ’to dismiss all of the members of the Board of the Directors’ was passed by a majority of 63%. Seven new directors were appointed in their place (p262). Later, the 11 ousted directors resigned from Eurotunnel PLC and the Joint Board, completing Miguet’s victory.

In comparison, Eurotunnel’s shareholders’ information meeting in London on April 8 was a much more subdued affair. Hervé Huas, one of the directors appointed the previous day, told shareholders that Eurotunnel was ’a great company’, but the new team ’felt it needed a sort of electroshock’ to wake it up. Unfortunately, electric shock can also induce paralysis.

The new board’s ’four objectives’ start with reducing the debt, though Huas conceded that ’the creditors have total control’ so it is ’very important that we put ourselves in a negotiating position, an open position.’ Next comes ’increasing the operating profit’ where he saw scope for ’improving productivity’.

The third objective was ’to engage in a partnership with the governments ... because they have a crucial role in the Tunnel - they are the concessionaires, they own the Tunnel on a freehold basis.’ He also believed ’they can be the catalyst for putting the right structure in place.’ The final step was ’to engage with the clients’, meaning presumably the operators of passenger and freight trains as truckers, car and coach operators simply buy the best deal available from the Tunnel or ferries.

Asked why the new directors had rejected Project Galaxie (RG 3.04 p121), which was intended to do all these things, Huas admitted that ’we rejected the Galaxie plan’, but he thought there were ’good ideas in it that we will be taking forward.’

If Huas appeared at times desperate to bridge the gulf between the previous board’s policies and what Miguet had said would happen, on one point he was quite explicit. Miguet would be ’neither a manager of the company nor a member of the board’, he insisted firmly.