Macron visit: how Paris is newly resurgent, despite Trump’s Jim
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron to Centre Block on June 7 during Mr. Macron's visit to Canada before the G7 summit in La Malbaie, Que. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Mead.

Macron’s election in May 2017 lifted French business and consumer confidence to record levels. And the impact continues to be felt today in terms of tourism, the property market, and law and order.

Who remembers Jim, United States President Donald Trump’s elusive, go-to guy on all things Paris?

Never accorded a surname by the White House, no reporter could trace him, but “Jim” gained a degree of notoriety for advising Trump against visiting the City of Light, because lax immigration policy and tight gun laws had made it a cesspool of foreign extremists. “‘Paris? I don’t go there anymore,’” Trump relayed Jim telling him. “‘Paris is no longer Paris.’”

So how’s Paris faring now — despite Jim’s warning — as French President Emmanuel Macron visits Canada this week, stopping in Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, before the G7 summit in La Malbaie?

The short answer is better, though with caveats.

Macron’s election in May 2017 lifted French business and consumer confidence to record levels. And the impact continues to be felt today in terms of tourism, the property market and law and order. Paris is not France, as the French are fond of saying, but it is a population of 12.4 million people.

Confidence is one of the great vagaries of contemporary economics (an excess of it marked the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis; a lack of it prolonged the Greek debt crisis), but its wavering hand looms large behind the economic uptick in France. Like the old market adage “a company has a problem when the markets say that it does,” Macron is perceived as pro-business, so he is.

But is France improving because of confidence in Macron? Or is France doing better, hence the confidence in Macron? His 44 per cent approval rating after a year in office is well above his two most recent predecessors. Either way, the improvement in growth, investment levels, and corporate profitability is also due to what he’s actually doing, to liberate employment for example.

Tourism to France has recovered since a slight downturn linked to the 2015 terrorist attacks, with 88 million tourists visiting last year. La belle Paris attracted 33.8 million tourists, up 2.9 million from 2016. France remains the world’s first tourist destination by visitor numbers, though it has slipped to fifth by tourism revenues behind the U.S., Spain, Thailand, and China.

Paris private property sales grew 17 per cent last year, despite price rises of about 10 per cent across the board. The mid-market east is a good overall gauge (the 11th district and nearby sections of the 12th), where prices are now a colossal €10,000 to €12,000 a square metre.

Parisians voting with their feet

The downside, aside from the infuriating recurrence of strikes—currently by rail unions, whose members are retiring at 50 when the state rail carrier is €50 billion in debt — is that Paris is expensive and congested. The city is losing about 7,500 residents a year, as populations rise in most of the developing world’s equivalent cities. Greater London, for example, has grown from 6.6 million to 14 million since 1980. Meantime, unemployment in Paris is 7.4 per cent, substantially less than the rest of France but higher than the full employment of Toronto and Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles, London, Sydney, and Melbourne.

Gentrification has grown the number of high-skilled workers in Paris (cadres in French, there’s no exact English equivalent), from a quarter of the population to almost half, according to economic historian Nicolas Baverez (up from 25 per cent to 46 per cent); the working class declining from about one in five to less than one in 10 (specifically, from 18 per cent to seven per cent). Public housing allocation by district serves to maintain a degree of social diversity, putting a brake on the kind of uniform, seemingly endless-bars-and-hairdressers gentrifying seen in some North American and Australian cities, but pressure on supply has pushed the cost of private housing up.

At the behest of the president, the new approach to law and order is marked by a return to proximity policing, with local police numbers on the increase. There are funding issues, when City Hall is already €5.5 billion in debt (on a total operating budget of €9.5 billion). But there’s a degree of cross-party consensus: proximity policing and emphatically not enabling greater access to guns à l’américaine are believed to be central to avoiding a repeat of the 2015 attacks that killed 130 people.

When Donald Trump told the U.S. National Rifle Association the Paris attacks could have been avoided if Bataclan concert-goers were armed — his hand cocked like a pistol while mouthing the “boom boom” of a serial gun-killing — former French president François Hollande called Trump’s behaviour “shameful” and “obscene.” A former terrorism victims’ association representative messaged Trump on Twitter, in English: “Go §#@% yourself (you can use a gun if you want).”

And Jim? Given Trump’s wont to confuse fiction with reality, perhaps Jim was only ever a narcissistic president talking to himself, a kind of reassuring imaginary cohort, as Trump sought to adapt to the alien surroundings, not to say foreign policy challenges, of his big new job at the White House.

In any case, Jim has made no comment on what might be called the Parisian renewal. Trump, meantime, has visited the great city.