Allocution de Mr. Alexis Andres - Petroleum Club Houston
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like first to express my sincere gratitude for your invitation to join you for this exceptional “Taste of France” dinner and the opportunity to share with you the reasons why we should all love France…
It may surprise you but I sometimes wonder whether, as a career diplomat, I am the right person to deliver such a speech… As a matter of fact, in the last 17 years, I have lived only 3 years in Paris and 2 years in the North-East of France. I have been posted to Warsaw, Hanoi, Berlin, Algiers and now Houston… so I can tell you a lot about why the people I met in those countries love France but I could be wrong about the real picture of today’s France…
And this is especially true because France is undergoing major changes ! Allow me to stress the political significance of the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic in May 2017.
After the Brexit vote, after the rise of populist and sometimes nationalist movements across Europe, the French people chose a different route : they chose to elect a new young leader on a pro-European and pro-reformist platform. And the tide of change has been stronger than ever : 78% of the deputies elected during the June 2017 parliamentary election were new to parliament and today 39% of our deputies are women. Those new elected officials also came mainly from the private or the non-profit sectors and much less from public service, thus expressing the diversity of the French population.
In this context, change is taking place, with the strong belief that France has to succeed because there is no alternative.
For example, this summer, President Macron signed a bill to make our labor law more flexible. So that it’s more adapted to companies’ different sizes. So that social dialogue works better. So that the costs of redundancies are more predictable. So that recruitment is easier, in particular for SMEs.
France is also improving its public finances while at the same time boosting its economy. The government is reducing public expenditure, reducing taxes and social contributions for households and businesses.
Corporate tax is being gradually lowered from 33.3% to 25% over the next five years. This will bring France tax rate in line with the European average. A flat tax at 30% on gains made on savings and financial investments has been introduced. This will simplify the existing highly complex system and it will support the financing of the economy. And finally, an important symbol is the abrogation of a very French specialty – the ISF, a form of wealth tax that is replaced with a property tax on the most expensive real estate.
This tough reform agenda will benefit from the solid economic momentum.
Growth has been increasing steadily for the last three quarters and year-on-year growth is at a 6-year high. Business confidence and business investment are at high levels. Unemployment is decreasing.
And guess what, French people are getting far more optimistic ! A few days ago the NYT was asking “are the French the new optimistic ?” and gave this answer “The French haven’t become magically cheerful, but there’s a creeping sense that hope isn’t idiotic, and life can actually improve.”
Of course, it would not be honest of me to let you think that I see only “La vie en rose”. As today’s headlines remind us, France is still facing major threats but who could pretend that France is an unsafe place to visit, or to invest in or to live in ?
On the contrary, the way the French people have reacted to the cowardly terrorist attacks in the recent years has demonstrated that France has already won the fight : thanks to intelligence and law enforcement forces who have proven to be efficient and brave, thanks to our military who is fighting the enemy where he’s trying to hide, thanks to political unity in this common battle, thanks to all citizens who have not fallen in the morbid trap of anxiety, hatred or disunity.
That’s why I strongly encourage you to visit France today, to invest in France today, maybe even to settle in France today…
The Germans have a special say : “leben wie Gott in Frankreich”, “live as a god in France”. No wonder that France is the world’s top tourist destination with 88 million foreign tourists in France, up 5-6 % compared to 2016. Among them 5 million U.S. tourists ! And not only in Paris but to other great spots like in Auvergne-Rhône Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur… and Alsace (if I don’t mention it, my wife won’t let me come back home tonight).
Another proof of dynamism are the 591 000 companies that were created in France in 2017 (+7% compared to 2016), the highest level since 2010. French entrepreneurs are younger (30% of them are less than 30) and still 40% of them are women entrepreneurs.
France is also attractive to FDI : the "Choose France" Summit (Versailles, January 22nd 2018) gathered 140 major foreign groups around President Macron : €3.5 billion in investment and 2,200 jobs announced or confirmed at the summit including Toyota (€300 million / 800 jobs by 2020), SAP (€750 million over 5 years), Novartis (€900 million), Facebook (€10 million in artificial intelligence) and Google (Paris headquarters).
And, if you invest in France, you will be at the heart of a 500 million consumers’ single market and connected to the EMEA markets…
Let me conclude with the reasons why I also love France… in Texas.
France and Texas have a rich shared history and, in 7 months, I’ve met so many people attached to it. Just a few examples. During Harvey, I saw so many people helping my compatriots. In Austin, I was moved to visit the French legation and meet the historical commission who will now be in charge of its renovation. I was so proud to present the Legion of Honor to WWII veterans having fought for my country’s freedom. In Houston, the story of the Menil collection is so exemplary ! I could go on and cite many other examples but time is running short.
On the other hand, among the ten thousand French people in Texas, I have met so many who came to Texas by chance and decided to stay. They are also the true ambassadors of our friendship and of the quality of life in Texas.
And this is why it is my duty and my goal to have French authorities, companies and citizens have a better understanding of what Texas is really about and what France in Texas should be.
Please help me to reach this goal by visiting France, by investing in France, by writing love letters to French people… and open their eyes while enjoying the best of today’s France.