Want to work in a thriving economy with a confident leader and plenty of projects planned? Either travel back in time to 2000s London – or hop on the Eurostar today
London and Paris, Paris and London. The two cities revolve around each other like binary stars. When one is up the other is down. Right now, Paris is on the way up.
It was ever thus. When Oliver Cromwell dragged England into a dreary puritan Commonwealth, Louis XIV the Sun King ruled over a dazzling Paris and France was the leading power in Europe. When France went bust in the 1790s and started cutting off royal heads, Pitt the Younger ruled over a booming Britain with the (surprising) resurgence of trade with the Americas. In the 1970s and 80s a confident France under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterand built the Grands Projets while we gawped in astonishment and suffered the three-day week, the winter of discontent and Thatcher’s austerity years. From 1997 to 2008 we enjoyed continuous prosperity in the Blair/Brown “third way”; London boomed and transformed its skyline. Meanwhile Paris seemed stuck in its own Gallic monoculture with its economy a prisoner of restrictive labour laws and anti “Anglos-Saxon” economy sentiment. Until now.
The whole world suffered from the credit crunch recession in 2008, but only Britain followed this catastrophe with the home-grown self-mutilation of Brexit. This double whammy has sent the UK from the top of the G5 growth index to the bottom at one fell swoop. Added to this, we have the weakest political leadership we have seen in a generation, a minority government, the emergence of racism in the population and, it appears, at the Home Office.
The whole world suffered from the credit crunch recession in 2008, but only Britain followed this catastrophe with the home-grown self-mutilation of Brexit
And we still have major structural problems to be resolved – not least low productivity and the housing crisis. Unaffordable and unavailable housing is a demographic issue due to the influx of foreign investment (mainly a good thing), the rise in our population and the reduction of household sizes – meaning we need more housing units per head of the population. Before Brexit this might have been solved by rising prosperity and a boom in housebuilding. Post Brexit, the solution is unclear – a price crash aside. Our only hope for a return to prosperity seems to be a (or the) customs union with the EU, which will turn us into a vassal state taking rules from the EU at great cost with no say in their formation. If not that, we will have a 10-year climb out from the trench we have dug. Oh how is mighty Albion fallen in just 18 months!
By contrast France, and Paris, are on the up and the sun shines on them again. The EU economy is beginning to boom. Even Spain and Greece are coming out of their recessions. Emmanuel Macron with his newly minted La République En Marche! party looks for all the world like today’s Sun King. It was no coincidence that he held his first major parliamentary meeting in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles palace. French used to be the language of diplomacy and with Macron, France has a return to form on the international stage. He played Trump to a T as guest of honour at the Bastille Day parade, then President Xi of China was flattered with a present of a prize stallion (from the Versailles stables, no less) ahead of Macron’s state visit. And of course he has cemented the Franco-German alliance with Merkel so France and Germany effectively rule the EU now the UK is out of the way. Internationally he looks like THE world statesman; Trump is a tyrant, Merkel is wounded, May is weak and Putin’s (internet) game has been rumbled.
Macron says, ‘France is back’ and it welcomes new businesses to set up there
Like all newly elected French presidents, Macron’s popularity immediately tumbled to a low point. The French like to build their leaders up, then pull them down. But it has recovered well, which means that he can press on with difficult, but necessary economic and labour law reforms. But as Macron says, “France is back” and it welcomes new businesses to set up there, sweetening the deal by offering €40bn (£33.9bn) in tax breaks to speed the country’s economy on its way. The draw will be especially strong for our banking community, which will need a new EU-based home soon. Frankfurt is doing well in this bid for our banks, but I think I’d rather go to Paris, and it’s only two hours from London.
With this new-found confidence, construction is on the up. Already, France produces over 300,000 new homes a year, compared with the UK’s paltry 130,000, and Macron’s policies include plans to turn France green, fostering the development of eco technologies and last month he announced plans to improve the energy efficiency of 500,000 homes each year.
And as well as getting greener, Macron’s France will be taller – in February last year Monsieur Le Président announced the construction of seven new towers in Paris’ La Défense business district to woo our banks. At Mipim last March, the Paris stand reflected this new confidence with a bevy of grade A office towers planned, chic and full of the latest thinking in agile working with a community of facilities.
What does this mean for me and my business? I’m looking south across La Manche and learning French. Vive la France, vive l’Entente Cordiale!
Jack Pringle is principal, EMEA regional director at Perkins+Will