IL CHANGE

Emmanuel Macron is a different president when he speaks English and not French

Vive la différence.
Vive la différence.
Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse
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Davos, Switzerland

Emmanuel Macron made an ambitious effort today (Jan. 24) to woo a large crowd of business and political leaders eager to hear him speak for the first time as French president at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In a speech that ran longer than that of other high-profile leaders so far—about an hour, but it sometimes seemed longer—Macron effortlessly ran through a laundry list of popular Davos subjects, switching between English and French.

He warmed up the cavernous hall with a joke at Donald Trump’s expense, without directly naming him (and in English, so nothing could be lost in translation back in Washington). “The most obvious paradox is to be talking about globalization in a place cut off by snow,” he said. There’s so much snow you can see why some might say it’s hard to believe in global warming, he added. “Fortunately, you didn’t invite anyone skeptical about global warming this year.”

The first half of his speech, in English, was a direct appeal to business leaders, as he announced investments in education, climate change, R&D, and innovation, while promising tax and fiscal incentives to encourage more risk-taking in France. Macron said he wanted to make the country’s notoriously rigid rules more flexible—developed in concert with business, instead of simply enforced by the government. He also called for a change in the culture of French regulation, which breeds bureaucracy.

He continued his pitch as a leader of Europe, and not just France, by saying that the EU needed a fresh 10-year strategy to establish its place on the global stage. “France is back, France is back at the core of Europe,” he said, to applause. “We will never have any French success without European success.”

In English, Macron’s investment-banking background is on display, but in French he takes on a different tone.

The second half of his speech, delivered in his mother tongue, delved into troubling social issues. He spoke about the folly of obsessing over economic growth, the excessive influence of financial institutions in  globalization, the need for international tax cooperation, as well as topics such as nationalism, terrorism, migration, climate change, artificial intelligence, big data, human rights, lagging education of girls, the potential environmental harm of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, and capitalism.

It was long, it was meandering, but it was popular. Macron finished his speech—in English—finally, to a standing ovation.