President Emmanuel Macron told dozens of the world’s most powerful executives on Monday that he would not follow the path of guillotined French royals and would continue to reform the French economy despite a sometimes violent popular revolt.
For the second year running, Macron hosted corporate A-listers like Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel and JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon at a pre-Davos dinner at Versailles.
Exactly 226 years after the decapitation of Louis XVI, who failed to plug the crown’s dismal finances and quell popular discontent over a sclerotic feudal society, Macron started his speech by invoking the king and his wife Marie-Antoinette.
“If they met such an end, it is because they had given up on reforming,” Macron told the guests, according to his office.
His office said earlier that foreign companies including medical products company Microport, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Cisco and others would announce investments in France totalling more than 600 million euros.
The dinner was an opportunity to reassure investors of Macron’s resolve to reform the economy after images of protesters angry at his policies attacking public monuments, boutiques, banks and riot police were beamed around the world.
“There are questions about the protests’ magnitude, about the violence, because these images are shocking for foreigners,” a source at Macron’s office said before the summit.
“Last year, the summit was in a totally different dynamic, it was all about ‘France is back’. Here we’re in a tougher part of the mandate domestically and that requires more explanations,” the source added.
On Monday, Macron told the business leaders the “yellow vest” movement was part of a bigger picture of middle-class angst over globalisation that gave rise to Brexit in Britain, as well as the rise of populist parties in Germany or Italy.
“The solution to the crisis is not to roll back what we have done in the past 18 months,” he said.
Macron was elected in May 2017 against a far-right candidate on a promise to create jobs and drive growth by cutting corporate taxes, easing France’s rigid labour regulations, and developing a more skilled labour force.
He began making good on those campaign pledges in a reform blitz during the first 18 months of his presidency that has impressed investors but infuriated low-paid workers, who feel he favours big business and is indifferent to their struggle to make ends meet.
Over the past two months, that popular anger has been vented at protests across France. The unrest has convulsed Macron and his government and forced costly concessions.
Macron is not attending the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, his office says, so that he can deal with quelling the yellow vest uprising.
Below are some of the key investment pledges announced on Monday:
* Microport: 350 million euros over five years to expand a Research & Development centre.
* Mars: 120 million euros invested in eight different sites including the Haguenau plant where M&Ms are produced.
* Procter & Gamble: 50 million euro investment in a new detergent production line at its Amiens plant.
* Transpod: 20 million euro investment to finance a 3-km (1.9-mile) hyperloop test line.