Consul General: French business community sees optimistic transitions this fall
Despite the pandemic and some struggles in the United States-France relationship, this fall has already brought an optimistic period of transitions in Atlanta’s French business community, the country’s consul general said Atlanta World.
This week, the consulate kicked off its annual France-Atlanta series with Georgia Tech, an exploration of science, technological affairs and humanitarian subjects now entering its 12th year. (See the full program here)
Although the requirement for vaccines for guests at the opening ceremony showed that the pandemic has yet to be defeated, the fact that it has taken place is a departure from the fully virtual 2020 edition. .
It is also the first major event held since Atlanta was designated by the French Ministry of Finance as a hub “La French Tech” – an Imprimatur which many say puts the city on the map of French entrepreneurs. The effort, including letters of support from the economic development community and the private sector, was led by the consulate’s scientific attaché, Rami Abi-Akl.
“French Tech Atlanta is a great success of our work here,” said Vincent Hommeril, Consul General of France in Atlanta covering six southeastern states. “It’s a really good boost for the startups that are working in this industry, so that they can come here and have the help of the French authorities, and we hope also from the US authorities – by building bridges between Atlanta and the French tech community.
Fittingly, on the day of the talk, a French-born catering technology company Sunday announced that it had raised $ 100 million, a large part of which would serve to fuel its North American influence from Atlanta.
Mr Hommeril, who took office in August 2019, a few months before the pandemic, said these developments are signs of momentum in a relationship that has been continuously cultivated, even amid the travel restrictions and related upheaval. to COVID-19.
“It was a difficult task, but in the diplomatic service, we say that we are used to the crisis, and it was a big crisis,” he said of the continued work of the powerless consulate. meet in person. “Normally, as diplomats, we have adaptability, so we adapted and we did our best. ”
France itself has also adapted: after suffering from strict lockdowns and a slow start to vaccinations, the country’s vaccination rates have skyrocketed to one of the highest in the world. More than 90% of French people aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine, of which 74% are fully vaccinated. Those who have passed the jab can display their status on a mandatory digital health title to enter high-speed trains, Parisian bistros and other public places.
The Americans, for their part, have been able to visit France since the end of June, however Biden the administration was slow to reciprocate.
The president announced the day before Global Atlanta’s interview with Hommeril on September 22 that the United States would end in November what many have called a “travel ban” affecting people living in the Schengen area. in Europe.
“The travel ban had big consequences for French investors here, because often people who had non-immigrant visas (which is the case with many investors) had no possibility of returning to France. “unless they can quarantine themselves in a third country for 14 days or get a” national interest exception “approved.
Still, Georgia’s trade with France persisted, with new investments announced. According to the figures of the French Treasury in the United States, French companies created 23,300 jobs in Georgia in 2020, and the $ 3.4 billion in bilateral trade increased by 18% compared to 2018.
All over the Atlanta metro, there are signs of dynamism, from the new move of the Franco-American Chamber to Peach wedges, who pilot French-made autonomous shuttles, the reinforced European grant from the Alliance Française which will help it open a new office in downtown Atlanta with the Goethe-Zentrum.
Hard times in America’s oldest alliance
Whether this bonhomie persists in the face of the unprecedented challenges of the American-French relationship is another story.
Mr Hommeril was reluctant to voice any opinion beyond those expressed by his foreign ministry, but he laid out the facts behind a situation that hampered bilateral relations in the week leading up to his interview.
The United States announced AUKUS ‘partnership with Australia, a deal whereby the U.S. military would provide its Pacific partner with nuclear-powered submarines, which are supposed to be used to patrol the region as a counterbalance to Chinaincreasing naval power.
The only problem? France had already signed a more than $ 60 billion deal with Australia for the supply of diesel-powered submarines, and officials say they were blinded by the announcement. Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian called it a “stab in the back” and recalled French ambassadors to Australia and the United States for consultations – an extraordinary diplomatic gesture usually reserved for adversaries.
Mr Hommeril made no comment other than saying that the United States should work to restore confidence, and he added a local touch to the background of the agreement noting that substantial training of officials of the Australian Navy on submarine operations had already taken place in its home region of France: Normandy, where the submarines would have been assembled.
Perhaps as a counterpoint to the current difficulty, he described recent activity undertaken by the consulate that showcases the enduring power of the alliance with the United States’ oldest ally.
On September 17, the same day the Ambassadors were recalled, Mr. Hommeril was in Thomson, Georgia, presenting the Legion of Honor medal to Luciano “Louis” Graziano, a 98-year-old WWII veteran who is the last living witness to the Nazi surrender in Reims, France. This is the second such prize awarded by the French government to a Georgian this year.
“Each time, it’s very moving, because these people are very simple. They say, ‘Oh, I’m not a hero; the heroes are my comrades who died in combat. But I always say: ‘No, luckily you survived, but you fought like the others, so you are also a hero, ”said Mr. Hommeril. “France will be eternally grateful to them.
The Consular Conversations series is sponsored by Miller & Martin SARL and was hosted in this case at Atlanta Metro Room.
See upcoming events with diplomats from Indonesia, Greece, the UK and other countries at www.globalatlanta.com/events.