For two years Emmanuel Macron served the French government in the relatively anonymous position of deputy secretary general to the French president. Then in 2014 he was appointed Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs.
Who was this unknown with such an important title? government observers questioned, according to Louis de Corail, the consul general of France for the Southeast, who participated in a panel at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta’s 5th Annual Europe Day Luncheon held on May 9 at the Commerce Club downtown.
The council chose as the topic with which to honor the creation of the European Union, “France Emergent,” and called on Francois Asselin, president of the French Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, Helene Toure director of the French Desk at the YER human resources firm and Cyril Vanier, anchor at CNN International to join Mr. De Corail in reviewing France’s newly gained luster as a world power.
Just two years after being appointed to head the influential ministry, Mr. Macron resigned from his august ministerial post to launch a new political party and run for France’s presidency.
All this seems to be old news now in May 2018. The news from France continues to carry many of the same headlines with strikes and street protests. But the panelists repeatedly underscored the new reality that “France Is Back,” as Mr. Macron, elected president just a year ago, reminds the world.
Mr. Varnier, CNN’s news anchor, placed Mr. Macron in the same pantheon as Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990, and Gerhard Schroder, Germany’s chancellor from 1998-2005 for dramatically changing the political canon in their countries.
“Those countries are working better than they used to,” said Mr. Vanier, while France was pretty much standing in place. The only solution for France, he said that Mr. Macron realized, would be to set in motion a series of reforms that would recast its economy.
While upsetting traditional hiring and educational practices, the country’s economy has been performing relatively well, Mr. De Corail underscored, with growth, investment and export numbers rising and unemployment dropping to under 9 percent.
Most important is that morale has risen. For instance, Mr. Asselin said that when he goes into a meeting he no longer keeps his head down looking at his shoes but raises his head high and walks in confidently.
“He’s linked the French people with economic facts,” he added, saying that pragmatism now holds sway over thematic concerns.
By creating an entirely new party and gaining a majority in France’s parliament, Mr. Macron has consolidated power with which to promote his reforms, the panelists affirmed.
Questions from the 100-plus attendees at the luncheon did focus on the current state of the E.U. and the gulf separating the wealthier countries from those less well off.
Mr. De Corail downplayed the divisions even to the point of citing Italy along with Germany and temporarily the United Kingdom as one of the larger geographic and economic partners.
Among the E.U.’s accomplishments he cited the dramatic improvement of economies such as Ireland’s and the continued desire of countries such as Croatia, where he has served, to join.
France also would hold on firmly to its “soft power,” he added, including the presence of the Alliances Francaises around the world and the culture that binds the French-speaking countries together through its francophonie ties. He added that the French language played an important psychological aspect at the heart of French culture.
When asked if women were playing a more important part role in French politics and business. Ms. Toure pointed to the continuing importance of the Gallic rooster as a symbol of French culture.
Although political representation in France is lower than in some other European countries, its politics due to a law on political parity, ensuring equal access to political representation for both men and women, has provided a decidedly pinker tint. More women were elected to the French parliament last year as members of Mr. Macron’s new party.
Mr. De Corail cited the candidacy of Segolene Royal, the first woman in France to be nominated as a presidential candidate by a major party. She lost in 2007 to Nicolas Sarkozy in the run-off. As a sign of the times, he also pointed to the role of Marlene Schiappa, who is secretary of state in charge of fostering equality between men and women.
The tenor of the discussion was that France is in the process of casting off past business practices and is experiencing a rejuvenation that has recast its brand as technologically forward thinking and Europe-minded.
Mr. Asselin cited the attendance of a multitude of French startups at this year’s consumer electronics show in Las Vegas as another example of the energy unleashed by Mr. Macron’s election, which has had the beneficial effect of rebranding France as a continental leader.
As if motivated by France’s rebranding, Charles Shapiro, the Council’s president, sprang to his feet to announce the upcoming World Affairs program on May 22 featuring Elizabeth Kiss, the president of Agnes Scott College who will speak on the topic, “Reimagining Atlanta as a Global Leader.” Dr. Kiss has been appointed warden of the Rhodes House in Oxford, England, where she will lead the Rhodes Scholars program. Her presentation is to be held at Tower Place 200, Suite 800, and is to be co-hosted by the Association of American Rhodes Scholars.
To learn about other upcoming World Affairs Council programs, click, here.