PARIS — An annual survey of French executive compensation has found that Eutelsat‘s Giuliano Berretta tops the list of best-paid chief executives in 2008, thanks mainly to a generous stock-option package.

The survey of 42 French companies, conducted by L’Expansion magazine and published in its May issue, found Berretta’s total 2008 compensation of 21 million euros ($29.6 million) bested the packages of better-known French companies including Alstom, Dassault Systemes, Suez, Alcatel-Lucent and Danone.

Berretta’s base salary and bonus of 1.56 million euros is less than most of the other best-paid chief executives, but the stock-option gain in 2008 of 18.59 million euros propelled Berretta to the top of the heap, according to L’Expansion.

Executive compensation has become a hot topic in Europe, as in the United States, during the financial crisis and the sharp decline in stock values.

Berretta in particular, who is scheduled to retire from his chief executives post later this year, has been the object of a campaign criticizing his pay package as excessive. The campaign may be part of an effort of prospective Berretta successors to better position themselves.

As is the case with Intelsat Chief Executive David McGlade and Telesat Chief Executive Daniel S. Goldberg, Berretta’s compensation is in part due to his company’s change of ownership, which was accompanied by stock-option awards. SES Chief Executive Romain Bausch, whose company has not changed majority ownership, has not benefited from the same nonrecurring compensation windfall.

Asked about his pay package in a mid-March interview with Space News, Berretta said there was nothing secret about his pay package, nor about Eutelsat’s growth and profitability. “I have been a successful CEO,” he said.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.