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Why France Matters

(CNN)France has been declared the new world leader in “soft power” according to a new report published Tuesday, July 15, 2017.

According to The Soft Power 30, which is published by PR firm Portland Communications, France ranked top ahead of the United Kingdom and last year’s leader, the United States.

Soft power, a term first used by the American political scientist Joseph Nye, combines the use of political values, culture, and foreign policy rather than coercion to influence the world stage.

The report says France’s rise from fifth to first is explained by Macron’s overwhelming election victory as well as the country’s “unrivaled” vast diplomatic network, as well how the country is perceived abroad.

“Macron has now been handed the mandate to help lead France through a period of pro-business and pro-EU reforms,” wrote the authors of the report.

“What emerges from these reforms will likely be a more dynamic and energized France that plays a leading role in the EU and perhaps shows greater global leadership overall.”

The report examines polling in 25 countries across the world and covers areas such as government, culture, foreign policy, enterprise, education and digital engagement.

According to the results, Macron’s success is down to both him and his party, La République En Marche, “riding a wave of both domestic and international popularity.”

The report also notes that the threat of terrorism has not deterred tourists from visiting France, which also won marks for its cuisine and art scene.

Why France Matters

France displays manifold strengths, which reinforce each other when the strengths are considered as a whole.

There is of course the France that you think you know, but which never ceases to surprise you beyond what you thought you knew. This is the France of history, beginning with some of the earliest known human settlements, progressing through Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the century of Louis XIV through to modern times. There is the well-known France of culture, ranging from the Gallo-Roman ruins to Gothic cathedrals and Beaux-Arts architecture; painting from Poussin to the impressionists to Klein; music from Marc-Antoine Charpentier through Edith Piaf and now French Touch; cinema from the Lumière Brothers to The Artist; and above all French language and literature. Add to this French luxury and a civilized lifestyle and you have the France everybody knows, or wants to know.

France is also a highly organized country, much more so than many others. Its healthcare system delivers some of the best outcomes in the world, both in terms of life expectancy and the overall health of the population, through a surprisingly successful form of public-private partnership, far indeed form socialized medicine. France’s primary education, especially the early education école maternelle, gives an equal start to all children in a way that has been studied around the world. For a country which is thought of as highly centralized, regional and local government takes on an extraordinary importance, alongside national institutions that function impeccably even when politics is stymied.

French companies stand among the largest multinationals in every global industry except for information technology, where Europe as a whole lacks any leader. In 21st century industries such as clean energy, environmental services and infrastructure, the country boasts world-class corporations operating globally. The inventiveness of the FrenchTech entrepreneurial sector is achieving increased recognition, for example at the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas.

To be sure, France faces socio-economic problems that hold the country back. But even here lie innovations and lessons to be learned. The country successfully integrates immigrants by conforming to a strong cultural model in a partnership between government and individuals. Higher education and research, too long separated, are undergoing needed reforms. The toughest reforms, of the protectionist labor code and burdensome tax system, both require deep changes, but this is recognized and being addressed, albeit piecemeal.

There is no question that France counts enormously in the world. The only country to have sovereign territory on all five major continents, France is also the only country to have been a founder-member of the United Nations Security Council, NATO and the European Union. Its diplomatic representation is second in size and scope only to the United States. Within the EU, nothing can happen without France. And France is the only NATO member besides the United States to have a full-spectrum defense capability land, sea, air, submarine, nuclear and a fully-fledged defense industry using its own technology and under its own control.

Combine these elements as for example some of them are combined in the COP21 environmental conference of December 2015 and it becomes obvious that France matters, often in ways that those who only see one piece of the picture would not imagine to be so powerful.

Nicholas Dungan
Senior Fellow, Program on Transatlantic Relations, Atlantic Council
Senior Advisor, Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques
Board Director, Chatham House Foundation
Adjunct Faculty, Sciences Po

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The Future of French in the EU and Beyond

August 7, 2017

Kathy Stein-Smith asks what the real story is on the French/English language dynamic in the European Union

While the 2016 UK European Union (EU) Membership Referendum launched the current public conversation on the status of English in the EU, it has been—just as much, if not more—a conversation on the future of French within the EU.

In order to understand the significance of this conversation about language, and languages, it is necessary to begin with the significance of multilingualism as a core value of the EU, which has implemented and supported pluri-lingualism, often referred to as “mother tongue plus two,” as a pragmatic educational objective.

In alignment with this core value of multilingualism, Europe accounts for more than half (53.9%) of the global language-services sector, which is valued at USD 38.2 billion per year, and the French Hewlett-Packard’s Application and Content Localization group (HPPACG) is the third-largest language-services provider in the world.

From the original four official languages of the European Community, the number has grown to 24, with English, French, and German (in alphabetical order) the informal de facto working/procedural languages, and the French government has long been an active advocate for the use of French.

But as the UK prepares to leave the EU, leaving no member nation with English registered as its official language, the role of English within the EU has been questioned, with suggestions made that French and German should be the sole working/procedural languages.

French as a Global Language

Languages spread, grow, and increase in influence due to a variety of political, economic, and cultural factors, and the present and future role of French in Europe can be best understood if examined in the context of its status in the world.

A global language, French is widely spoken around the world, with 274 million native speakers, and is the fifth-most-widely spoken language in the world. It is considered one of the most useful languages in international business and is one of the official languages of the United Nations and many other international organizations, including the Olympic Games.

“ENGLISH IS LOSING ITS IMPORTANCE IN EUROPE.”
“L’ANGLAIS PERD SON INFLUENCE EN EUROPE, AU PROFIT DU FRANÇAIS.”

According to the report La langue française dans le monde, French is the third language on Amazon and the fifth language on Wikipedia, with knowledge of French considered a personal and professional advantage and a tool to access information around the world.

It is a language of global communication with international media like TV5Monde, France24, and RFI each reaching tens of millions of viewers and listeners around the world, and it is the fourth-most-widely used language on the internet. French films and books are popular around the world.

The economic and political impact of France, the fifth-largest economy in the world, and the French-speaking world, the sixth-largest global geopolitical area, is considerable, accounting for 16% of the world’s GDP and 20% of world trade in goods. A report titled “The Global Economic Importance of the French Language” demonstrates the positive impact of French as a common language in trade among members of the global French-speaking community. It is also important to take into account the soft power, or appeal, of French language, culture, and lifestyle.

Not only is France the most popular destination for international visitors in the world and the third-most-popular destination for international students, but Paris has also long been considered the best city for students in the world, second only to Montreal, the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. In addition, 125 million people are learning French, and it is especially interesting to note that during the period 2010–2014, the number of students learning French increased by 2% in North America, 7% in the Middle East, 44% in sub-Saharan Africa, and 43% in Asia and Oceania.

With just under 40% of French speakers living in Europe and enrollment in French in Europe down by 2% during the 2010–2014 period, the inevitable conclusion is that the future of French is increasingly global, less dependent on Europe than ever before, but—at the same time—all the more impactful, precisely because of the interconnectedness of the globalized world. It has even been predicted that, by 2050, French will become the most widely spoken language in the world. As important as the current situation may be, it is also important to remember that there was another period in history—the 18th century—when French was the global language, as chronicled in Fumaroli’s When the World Spoke French— “when the French were at home wherever they went, when Paris was every foreigner’s second homeland, and when France became the object of Europe’s collective curiosity. ”In conclusion, more people are speaking and learning French today than ever before, and promotion of the French language is a priority for the French government.

The Promotion of French

The promotion of French “is a priority for French diplomacy.” In addition to the appeal of France, Paris, and the French language, culture, and lifestyle, the French government actively promotes French, with more than 700 professionals and a budget of €600 million (USD 750 million) a year. Priority areas include Africa and the Middle East, Europe, the G20 countries, international organizations, economic life, and the media and online. Efforts include the teaching of French through the Alliance Française (445), French Institutes (132), and French Cultural Services, as well as through French international schools (486), teacher training programs, and the promotion of French within specific professional areas.

The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), with its 80 members and overall population of one billion, is an example of the global reach of French, and the French government actively supports the French language through a wide range of programs around the world, including the Forum mondial de la langue française and TV5Monde. La Fédération internationale des professeurs de français (FIPF) supports the professional development of French teachers around the world. In addition to its efforts to promote French, the French government has embraced the rise of bilingualism and heritage languages, with its “révolution bilingue,” the French Heritage Language Program, the importance of multilingualism and linguistic diversity through its ELAN (Ecole et langues nationales en Afrique) multilingual education program in a dozen African nations, and many more.

The Future of French

There are more people who speak French now than at any other time in history. French is predicted to become the most widely spoken mother tongue in Europe by 2025 and the most widely spoken mother tongue in the world by 2050. In addition, there are approximately 125 million French language learners around the world, and French is actively promoted by the French government and the OIF. The future of French around the world seems assured, and in a globalized and interconnected world, the global resurgence of French is likely to be felt within Europe and the European Union. For those convinced that English is the global lingua franca, it is necessary to remember that English is only spoken by 25% of the world population (British Council).

For those who say that English is—and will always be—the global language, the future is generally difficult to predict. The use of English around the world has been driven by a combination of historical, political, and economic factors, heavily reliant on the former British colonial empire and the role of the U.S. as a global superpower. However, in the 21st-century European context, the UK does not have a pre-eminence of that magnitude, and it is not difficult to imagine an EU functioning solely in French, as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made the point in a May 2017 address.

The same forces that have caused the rise of English in the world may do so for French, and the global rise of French may impact the status of French in Europe. Just as English benefited from the synergy of multiple forces in the 20th century, French may benefit from the synergistic effect of a globalized francophone culture in the 21st century. It is interesting to note that only 36% of native French speakers live in Europe, a powerful indication that while French is indeed a European language, its future is global and its status is impacted by the same global forces that have led to the rise of English. In May 2017, Juncker chose to deliver a speech in French rather than English, saying, “l’anglais est lentement, mais sûrement, en perte de vitesse en Europe.”

Concluding Thought

As the UK and the EU move toward Brexit, it is important to note current reports of increased interest in foreign language within the UK. Are these merely a coincidence, or a belated response to numerous reports linking foreign language skills to business and professional success, or are they a signal that French is on the rise? Either way, the importance of the French language and francophone culture can no longer be ignored.

–Language Magazine