By Solène Cordier and Samuel Laurent, Le Monde
Regardless of what the British and American press and certain French naysayers are saying, France — the world’s fifth-largest global economic power in terms of GDP — has a certain number of assets.
While not all criticism of a government that is overzealous and overly extravagant, with laws that are overly restrictive, etc., is unfounded, in recent months it has tended to become reflexive.
The French, champions of self-denigration, tend to forget it, but the country’s attractiveness, birth rate and productivity counter the charges made by those who engage in France-bashing.
1. A country that still attracts foreign investors
While France has lost some of its appeal in recently years, particularly since the 2008 crisis, it remains a major destination for foreign companies. According to the annual barometer of Ernst & Young, in 2012 France ranked number one in Europe in terms of the establishment of industrial companies, and number three worldwide in terms of attractiveness, behind the UK and Germany. One of France’s main investors was none other than the U.S., which accounts for 30% of the projects and 40% of jobs created by foreign firms, nearly double the previous year’s measurements.
One could mention other rankings as well. In 2011, France was the second-largest country in Europe, after the UK, in terms of R&D projects, attracting 16% of such projects, putting it ahead of both Germany and Spain.
2. A country that still invests abroad
France, turned in on itself? In late 2012, it ranked number four worldwide in terms of direct investments abroad, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN agency in charge of development issues. As for investment flows during the same period, UNCTAD ranked the country as 11th worldwide and number three in Europe.
According to the Treasury department, French companies abroad account for a global turnover of nearly 1 trln euros and employ some 5 mln people.
3. An incubator for start-ups and innovation
No fewer than 90 French companies are on Deloitte’s 2013 list of the 500 fastest-growing startups in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and one holds first place. Five French businesses are in the top 30. France is also the seventh-most favourable country for the development of start-ups, ahead of Germany, according to the Financial Times, which can hardly be accused of Francophilia.
Furthermore, 12 French companies are on the Reuters list of the top 100 innovators, thanks in particular to significant aid for R&D.
4. A favorite destination for students
Several rankings confirm the appeal that France holds for foreign students, who praise the quality and relatively affordable cost of education there.
France is the third-most-popular destination for foreign students, behind the United States and the UK, according to a TNS Sofres survey commissioned by the government agency Campus France. UNESCO’s latest figures on this topic confirm the country’s appeal: in 2013, 288,544 foreign students chose France, i.e., 7% of the total number of foreign students worldwide, putting it in third place behind the US and the UK.
5. Highly productive employees
French people have the well-deserved reputation of being among the most productive employees in the world, second only to the United States, despite annual working hours being among the lowest, at 1,479 hours (source: OECD). Eurostat statistics show that in 2012 French labour productivity per hour worked amounted to 45.40 euros compared with 42.60 for Germany and 37.20 for all countries in the euro zone.
6. Dynamic population growth
Another important advantage: the strong birthrate in France. Indeed, the fertility rate in 2012 was 2.01 children per woman, the second highest rate in Europe after Ireland.
Unlike almost all developed countries, France did not see any decline in fertility as a result of the economic crisis. In the United States, for example, the fertility rate fell from 2.12 children per woman in 2007 to 1.89 in 2011. In France, 792,000 children were born in 2012 compared with 793,000 in 2011.
Life expectancy at birth in France is among the highest in the world. In 2011, it was 84 years for women and 78 years for men, compared with 80 and 75 in the United States and 78 and 83 in Germany.
7. A recognised way of life
French gastronomy plays a key role in promoting France’s influence abroad, so much so that it has been included in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list since 2010. French cuisine and the French way of life are some of the features that make France the world’s leading tourist destination, as demonstrated by the success of wine tourism (24 mln tourists in the wine producing regions in 2012).
The agrifood sector is therefore the largest employer in France and the most important in terms of turnover and added value.
8. The leading tourist destination
In 2012, there were 1.035 bln international tourists, according to the World Tourism Organisation. 83 mln of them travelled to France, making it the world’s leading tourist destination, far ahead of the United States (67 mln tourists) and China (slightly less than 58 mln).
In terms of revenue, France climbed to third place, after the United States and Spain. The tourist industry generated an income of 53.7 bln euros in 2012, a slight decrease compared with the previous year, according to the WTO.
And in addition… the vitality of the luxury goods sector (which represented a global turnover of approximately 210 bln euros, a quarter of which comes from French industry), the importance of la Francophonie, the 11 mln square kilometers of territorial waters, making France the world’s second most important maritime power, and the health system, ranked among the best in the world by the World Health Organisation. Not to mention that France is the top European country in the Fortune Global 500, which identifies the world’s largest companies, with 35 French companies featuring on the list, compared with 34 for Germany, 68 for Japan and 133 for the United States.
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