Analysis: France's Macron uses culture to assert world's top 'soft power' nationality

French President Emmanuel Macron is being hailed as the leader who is setting the pace for change in world politics. Confirmation comes from France rising to the top of an index ranking the best nationalities to develop talent and business.

The Henley & Partners-Kochenov Quality of Nationality Index (QNI) has for the first time in its seven years knocked Germans from their perch as being provided with the most opportunities at home and overseas.

Professor Dimitry Kochenov, co-creator of the QNI, says it's possible to compare the relative worth of nationalities as opposed to simply that of states.

“In today’s globalised world, the legal status of millions of nationals extends their opportunities and desires far beyond their countries of origin: The confines of the state are simply not the limit of their ambitions and expectations,” he says.

“The QNI measures the internal value of nationality, which refers to the quality of life and opportunities for personal growth within our country of origin, as well as the external value of nationality, which identifies the diversity and quality of opportunities that our nationality allows us to pursue outside our country of origin.”

Like most other benchmarking exercises, its data derive from agencies such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Air Transport Association, or Iata. The last is particularly good for ranking passport power – the ability of how a passport lets you enter another country without a visa or you get a visa on arrival.

Why France is top
The actual difference between France and Germany isn't great in score – France is 81.6% out of 100, while Germany is 81.6% and Iceland 81.5%.

But France has risen up the chart since 2013 and Germany has slipped. France’s advantage, in this case, is the access of its citizens to its greater settlement freedom (attributable mainly to the country’s former colonial empire).

France has a number of overseas territories that are counted as part of France proper, even though they may be independent in nature. Of course, both are in the EU, which has 28 members.

But if you measure nationality as a kind of soft power, I think this ranking reinforces France’s claim to world leadership.

France has been in a backwater in recent decades, due mainly to its poor political leadership and weak economy, compared with, say, Germany and the US. But this is changing under President Macron, who has taken advantage of Angela Merkel’s waning political power in Germany.

An indication of this is in the way Macron created a political movement from virtually nothing and swept away both the main parties of the left and right. He also opposed the anti-immigrant populism that has become a force in many parts of Europe.

Macron the highbrow
A new profile, in Vanity Fair magazine ahead of his recent visit to the US, highlights his highbrow status versus other leaders such as UK Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump. He told the interviewer that his “obsession” is culture and that his childhood was imbued with the classic writer of literature – Stendhal  (the pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle)  – and the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert.

He says culture is “part of an emancipation project for this country [France]. Because [with culture] you manage to provide feelings, emotions, which can break the barriers between people, which can completely transform their life …”

If this sounds elitist, I think Macron would be flattered. But he would point to his culture project as being to bring the poor and immigrant neighbourhoods of France into the mainstream, as well as promoting the French language in places such as Africa, where it is second to English

“For me,” he told Vanity Fair, “culture is what you have to do … because you don’t just deal with the technicalities. You deal with symbols. You try to speak to the country in depth – its history, its landscape, its future, its threats.”

In his numerous world trips since taking power – to India, China, the US and even Australia and the South Pacific – he seeks out artists, writers, musicians, film-makers and scholars.

His policies include a €500 credit to every 18-year-old's smartphone. It gives them access to museums, galleries and cinemas as well as books, videos and music.

This year’s French Film Festival in New Zealand was the biggest and best yet, with heavy sponsorship and promotion. It may not be connected but this year’s Cannes Film Festival banned Netflix because its movies can’t be seen in cinemas.

How does New Zealand score?
New Zealand has moved up a notch, from 32nd to 31st with a score of 64.5%, just ahead of Australia at 64.3% and Canada with 64.0%. It doesn’t look flash until you discount the 28 countries of the EU. Of the non-EU countries, the US moves up two ranks to 27th ahead of Croatia, Japan, Gibraltar and then New Zealand.

Among others, China climbs two places to rank 59th while Russia maintains 63rd. The United Arab Emirates has for the first time ever overtaken Israel, now ranking 46th with Israel 48th. The Emirati nationality has climbed 13 positions over the past five years, making a significant leap forward when its holders received visa-free travel access to Europe’s Schengen Area in 2016.

By contrast, the Arab boycott of Qatar has pushed it down to 87th – a dramatic drop of 31 places since 2013.

The biggest gainers are Georgia and Ukraine, rising by 20 and 19 positions respectively as they entered the Schengen Area.

'Irrational ceiling'
Christian Kälin, co-creator of the QNI and chairman of Henley & Partners, says the downside to the index is it demonstrates a “highly irrational ceiling for our opportunities and aspirations.”

The top quarter of the world’s states (scoring 50% or above) have turned national borders into myths and liberated their citizens from imaginary geographical limitations.

“For the many individuals who do not automatically enjoy such boundless levels of access and mobility, residence and citizenship programmes provide an alternative path to freedom,” Dr Kälin says.

“Governments are increasingly embracing residence- and citizenship-by-investment as a means of stimulating economic development and growth. 

“[This] is the most direct route to global mobility, connectivity and access. The appeal of residence and citizenship programmes is growing rapidly, with more than 60 different programmes in 57 countries to choose from.”

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