Lazard France CEO Matthieu Pigasse cut a smooth figure as he strode into Lazard’s boardroom for a breakfast meeting with some 20 AAPA members on April 30.

His slim, pin striped suit and relaxed, open-shirt look were a surprising contrast to the somber portraits on the walls of the men who have run this venerable advisory and asset management firm for the last century and a half.

At 43, his accomplishments are already impressive. He is co-owner of  “Le Monde” newspaper and owns the magazine “Les Inrockuptibles”. He recently served as an advisor to the Greek government in its struggle to renegotiate its debt restructuring. Earlier in his career, he was an aide to three government ministers in Socialist administrations. To top it off, he’s recently published two pithy books on the economic crisis. Meeting with such an insider was a prescient treat just before the French presidential runoff on May 6.

In a jocular style peppered with anecdotes, Pigasse took us into the world of high finance and politics and told us what the future holds.

Pigasse made no secret of the fact that he supported newly elected Socialist president Francois Hollande’s policies, notably his growth strategy forEurope. “What’s the point of being cured if you’re dead when you get there?” he asked.

Continuing on the path of pure austerity being encouraged byFrance and Germanycould lead to social and financial upheaval, he said, and priority must be given to growth. He applauded the change in political tone being heard acrossEuropeon the need to for economic stimulus, noting that the markets are starting to heed this message.

He told us that the only long-term solution for Europe is a type of federalism like in theUS. “European values, markets and societies must be integrated,” he said. If Europe is truly going to dig itself out of the debt crisis, European governments must mutualize their debts by issuing Eurobonds, he said. “Such a move would immediately stop markets from speculating and pitting one country against another,” he stated.

Though Hollande hasn’t talked about reform, Pigasse believes he will be a reformer and that the French expect it. “The left has always been much better in power than in opposition,” he pointed out.

He said there’s no doubt the French labor market needs a serious overhaul. “Work and risk must be compensated so that people can take charge of their lives,” he said. “One failure shouldn’t mean you’ve ruined your entire life. We need to learn how to take and reward risk.”

He dismissed the talk of a market attack on France if  Hollande is elected, calling it fabricated. “Markets are no more idiotic than anyone else,” he said. “They’ll wait to see what kinds of signs and signals the Hollande administration gives in its opening days.”

One of the biggest dangers toEurope, he noted, is populism and extremism. “We cannot turn inward and blame others, “the outsider” for our problems,” he said. “This would be so damaging – politically, socially, morally and economically.”

-Eleanor Beardsley