Brexit and France’s supreme survival skills help it to beat its opponent on the international stage .In 2002, I moved to Paris from London. It was a much cheaper place back then. London had its banks, Paris was the capital of the 19th century. I felt like I was fleeing modernity.
France had lower incomes at the time than the UK, and received less foreign direct investments (FDI) due to its constant strikes. France was a dissident loner in foreign policy and its views were almost ignored. These countries are twins, two ex-imperial empires with 67 million people that have become a shambles. They struggle to deindustrialize the present while the past hangs over it like a shroud. However, the British twin was dominant back then.
On March 10, Rishi Sunak will cross the Channel for the first Franco–British leaders’ summit since 2018.. He’ll be noticing the changes. The country that most closely resembles Britain is beginning to replace it. Some of the traditional functions in the UK are being taken over by France.
20 years ago, I was watching on TV as Britain won a historic, if not Pyrrhic, victory over its neighbor. The UN was discussing the imminent invasion of Iraq. Dominique de Villepin, France’s foreign minister, spoke out against war in French while the rest of the delegates listened on headphones to the translation. It was a metaphor of France’s modern role. De Villepin expected to hear the whole world, but he wasn’t.
He concluded, “This message is from France, an old country. . . ” Jack Straw was Britain’s foreign secretary. He replied “Mr President. I speak in behalf of a very ancient country, founded 1066 by the French.” The delegates, almost all without headphones, guffawed. The French pomposity was pricked by British wit. The UK, which was a pillar in what was then known as “the international community”, won the war on Iraq.
France proved correct, but it didn’t gain much. In 2008 John Ross was London’s adviser and said: “We don’t see ourselves as competing with Paris. We won that contest.” Nicolas Sarkozy was then France’s president. He said later: “We don’t think of ourselves as in competition with Paris. The UK had won the linguistic battle and the financial battle. It won the battle for symbols through its monarchy.”
France’s ruling classes showed remarkable survival skills after 2008. The financial crisis did not withstand and the country’s economy was not permanently damaged. There was also no Frexit. Roland Lescure, the French minister of industry, answered my question, “Yes, without any ambiguity.” The UK was the safest place for FDI to Europe. We are now more attractive than ever. “I think Britain is less appealing than ever.” Britain is no longer the best place to have their European headquarters. France takes over for FDI.
There won’t be many headlines about companies moving existing employees across the Channel. It’s the new investments that favor France, rather than relocating existing staff across the Channel. French incomes are now equal to British — French people have a lower work load but a higher level of productivity. Britain has French-style strikes.
They are the only two global metropolises in western Europe, probably because London and Paris were both imperial capitals. Paris is a potential alternative to London. It is now threatening London’s lead in banking and technology. This is partly due to new British weaknesses, such as the requirement for visas for European staff and the rules that prevent London-based financial institutions from serving European clients .
Paris is becoming increasingly attractive to investors. Paris has more high-speed trains than London and is currently building 196,000 new homes in suburban areas by 2030. The city’s elite is now able to handle foreigners in English, as demonstrated by Emmanuel Macron and his team of bilingual ministers.
Washington has always called London first when faced with diplomatic problems. Without a seat at EU’s table, Britain is less valuable. It is plagued by political instability that is almost uncharacteristic, has an almost Gaullist obsession about going it alone, and has recently appointed unscrupulous leaders such as Liz Truss or Boris Johnson. France is fortunate that Antony Blinken (US secretary of State) is a Francophone Parisian.
Macron, a classic French dissident within the west alliance, sounded a little too pro-Putin to everyone’s liking months ago. He now claims he is supporting Ukraine “to win”, as the reality of his situation forces him to rejoin the alliance. “I believe he has changed for real this time,” Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zilenskyy recently stated. Even Russophile French military personnel are now against the Kremlin because it helps them push out of Africa. France has symbolically transferred military tents from Mali into Ukraine’s borders.