For the last few years the UK's economically liberal The Economist magazine has been picking its “Country of the Year”.
Up until 2017, France never troubled the judges. But then along came Emmanuel Macron.
Perhaps its no surprise a pro-free trade, liberal, globalization supporting magazine chose France in the year a pro-globalization, economically liberal, progressive 39-year-old (40 on Thursday) became the president of a country after five years of near-stagnation under a Socialist leader.
“In 2017 France defied all expectations. Emmanuel Macron, a young ex-banker who had no backing from any of the traditional parties, won the presidency.
“Then La République En Marche, Mr Macron’s brand-new party full of political novices, crushed the old guard to win most of the seats in the National Assembly.
“This was not merely a stunning upset. It also gave hope to those who think that the old left-right divide is less important than the one between open and closed.
“Mr Macron campaigned for a France that is open to people, goods and ideas from abroad, and to social change at home.
“In six months he and his party have passed a series of sensible reforms, including an anti-corruption bill and a loosening of France’s rigid labour laws.
“Critics mock Mr Macron’s grandiosity (calling his presidency “Jupiterian” was a bit much).
“They carp that his reforms could have gone further, which is true. Perhaps they forget how, before he turned up, France looked unreformable—offering voters a choice between sclerosis and xenophobia.
“The struggle between the open and closed visions of society may well be the most important political contest in the world right now. France confronted the drawbridge-raisers head on and beat them. For that, it is our country of the year.”
The French press will probably jump on the choice in the coming days as they tend to make a big deal of anything positive or indeed negative said about France by the “Anglo-Saxon” press. Macron himself and his government will no doubt get wind of it too.
The choice of France shows how The Economist's view of the country has changed dramatically in recent years.
In November 2012 the magazine angered many in France when it referred to it on the front cover as “The time bomb at the heart of Europe” due to its huge debt, moribund economy and lack of competitiveness.
The article went off like a grenade in Paris where government ministers queued up to blow off steam in the direction of the British magazine, who they accused of blatant French-bashing.
“France isn't at all impressed,” said the prime minister at the time.