“Each city has its own chemistry,” is the way that France’s ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud, led off his luncheon speech at the French-American Chamber of Commerce’s annual Crystal Peach Awards dinner on Oct. 28 at the Georgia Tech Historic Academy of Medicine.
The annual awards event is focused on business and investments. But before his defense of France as a serious global business contender, the ambassador referred to his visit at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights downtown.
In addition to alluding to his emotional visit there, he cited the center as an important part of Atlanta’s chemistry and its relevance worldwide because of ever present discrimination on the basis of race, religion and sexual orientation.
“All countries are facing such challenges,” he added referring to the center’s exhibitions focused on the U.S. civil rights movement and human rights struggles around the world.
Besides using his visit merely as an attention-getting intro for the rest of his comments, he said that he would seek out a French institution with which the Atlanta center could partner.
Then he got down to the business at hand.
He pointed out that Business France, the new entity created at the beginning of the year, already has had ripple effects in the Southeast with the appointment of a new team in its Atlanta office.
He also sought to puncture what he considers longstanding misconceptions about the French workforce. The idea of a 35-hour work week is fallacious, he said, adding that most French workers put in 39.6 hours per week.
Without belaboring the details for why the current French socialist government has mostly let management and labor workout among themselves the hours in a work week, he added that French executives generally work more than 44 hours per week.
He also said that French productivity ranks high in Europe and that it continues to be the second strongest economy on the continent, trailing only Germany, and the third exporter in the world of both services and farm products.
And he encouraged local executives to investigate the tax breaks that France’s government is extending to foreign companies in coming years.
Without discussing the status of health insurance in the U.S., he did indicate his support for France’s policy of universal health care, saying: “If you are sick, you should be treated.”
Otherwise, he said that the U.S. and France face many of the same critical challenges and that in his opinion U.S.-French relations “have never been better.”
“I feel I’m at the top of the roller-coaster,” he added, pleased to be in such a favorable time of good
relations but always apprehensive that the relationship could change because of the usual ups-and-downs in U.S.-French relations.
The common factors of concern to both countries, he said, include a general understanding of the importance of dealing with climate change, an awareness of the problems of the middle classes, a mutual stand against the threat of terrorism and immigration issues.
Europe is undergoing great stress due to the refugee crisis, he added, but mentioned that he feels the greatest threat to the European Union would be a vote in the 2017 referendum in the United Kingdom on whether or not to remain a member.
The Crystal Peach Awards were presented following the ambassador’s remarks.
Jim Barber, president of UPS International, received the Economic Development Award for United Parcel Service Inc.’s investment in France.
Philippe Frantz, president of REEL S.A.S., received the Economic Development Award for his company’s investment in the Southeast.
Julien Nadaud, chief product officer, b-pack, received the French-American Chamber of Commerce Innovation Award.
John Doud, value solutions channel manager, Dassault Systems, received the France-Atlanta Award of Sustainable Innovation.