France reclaims the top spot in the 2019 Soft Power 30. France first topped the index in 2017, but dipped to second place last year. Its return to the top spot is testament to its robust soft power resources, boosted by strong presidential leadership amidst wider geopolitical uncertainty. The past year has not been easy for France. Widespread discontent around rising fuel prices and living costs sparked the gilets jaunes movement in November 2018, which continued into the first quarter of 2019. However, President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to address nationwide concerns helped him recover in the polls, supported by steady economic growth despite a slowdown in the euro zone. As the host of the 2019 G7 Summit, President Macron showed global leadership on critical issues including climate change and tensions between US and Iran, and successfully appeased the US over the French tech tax. President Macron has established France as a reliable European leader, which is further strengthened by its extensive diplomatic network, as reflected in the Engagement sub-index. Furthermore, French culture continues to amass enormous global appeal, with strong performances across art, film, food, sport, and tourism. Home to cultural icons including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, France also boasts the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Thus, it is no surprise that France is the most visited destination in the world. The devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in April drew an outpour of support from both French and global publics, demonstrating the global resonance of French culture, history, and heritage. Over the next year, France is well-positioned to cement its leading position on the international stage and be the driving force for global cooperation and multilateralism.
France continues to dominate the Engagement sub-index with its vast diplomatic network. It is unrivalled in its memberships to multilateral and international organisations, and has the highest number of diplomatic cultural missions via its extensive Alliance Francaise network. President Macron has done well to put France’s diplomatic machinery to good use. His brokering of the EU Commission leadership succession agreement, quickly followed by a successful 2019 G7 Summit, showed that France occupies a place of rising diplomatic importance. This year’s polling shows a positive global response to a more assertive and internationally-minded France.
France is not known for a particularly business-friendly environment, which comes through in the Enterprise sub-index. However, France has moved up one spot this year, an encouraging sign for President Macron’s economic reforms. Moreover, France’s economy is looking resilient despite the wider European slowdown, and it should continue to support domestic innovation and enterprise.
French soft power continues to benefit from its extensive diplomatic reach, rich cultural offering, and the strong international statesmanship of President Macron. Sitting at the top of the rankings, France would do well to give the world more of the same. As the current flagbearer of global cooperation and multilateralism, Macron has an opportunity to steer the international agenda over the next few years. He should seize it.