In a recent survey which ranked countries according to global perception, France came in second and was only beaten to the top spot by Germany.
The result was fairly surprising given that the global perception of France is often negative. High taxes, strikes, red tape, record unemployment, the threat from terrorism are just a few of the reasons the country often suffers in these kinds of global rankings.
But things appear to be changing. As France rose from fifth to second in the Nation Brands Index– a position it last held in 2009 – it passed the US and UK, on the way up. While the UK remained 3rd the US dropped from first place to sixth.
The Nation Brands Index, created by marketing research company Gfk in association with independent policy advisor Simon Anholt, analyses the national image and reputation of 50 countries worldwide and ranks them according to “brand” strength.
The study looks at six categories: governance, exports, people, culture & heritage, tourism, investment and immigration.
And it looks like this change in people's perception of France has something to do with its new 39-year-old leader, French President Emmanuel Macron, a liberal who has vowed to reduce unemployment, loosen labour laws, make the country more business friendly and, as he said himself, “drag France into the 21st Century”.
For even though its score improved in all six of the categories, the greatest gain was seen in governance, where France’s improved score stood at double the average figure.
Last week France's ambassador to the US Gerard Araud told The Local how Macron had changed the image of France in the US where Americans were now more likely to toast the French rather than bash them.
“People are excited because for the last decade France has been considered as a sort of moaning country that faces strikes and other problems and suddenly there is renewal with Emmanuel Macron,” said Araud.
On top of governance (and perhaps unsurprisingly), France — the home to some of the world's greatest museums and art galleries, not to mention, its architecture, history and cuisine — was ranked first for culture.
France — which is the most visited country in the world — also came second only to Italy for tourism, and for exports, it was fifth behind Japan, the US, Germany and the UK (see below).
Nation Brands Index. Photo: GfK/Simon Anholt
And while France benefitted from score gains in its own right, it was also pushed up by the decline of the USA.
The US was the only country to see its overall score go down this year, specifically in terms of global perception regarding its governance or what Anholt called the “Trump effect”.
The decrease in America’s image in the governance category suggests that we are witnessing a ‘Trump effect’ triggered by President Trump’s policies and ‘America first’ message, said Anholt.
A similar fall in perception of the US was seen following the re-election of George W. Bush, said Anholt, adding that America has never stayed outside the top ranking for more than a year at a time.
“It will be interesting to see whether this holds true in the 2018 ranking,” the professor said.
The study also pointed to the fact that “global perception of the UK has recovered following a significant decline seen in 2016 immediately after the Brexit vote.”
“Its overall Index score is back to very nearly its 2015 level, with improvement across all six categories.”
This puts it into the top five countries for Exports, Culture, Tourism and Immigration-Investment. The UK’s largest gains are for Governance (nearly two points) and People, suggesting that most countries have come to terms with the UK’s vote last year to leave the EU, and their perception has re-settled following that shock.
This year's NBI is based on data collected in July from a total of over 20,185 online interviews with adults in 20 countries.