French President Emmanuel Macron tells Davos elite that they need to share wealth

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French President Emmanuel Macron says European countries will need to be ambitious in shaping the future of the European Union.
Macron gestures as he speaks during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. PHOTO: REUTERS

DAVIS, Switzerland (BLOOMBERG) - Emmanuel Macron arrived in Davos on Wednesday (Jan 24) with a new message for the global elite: invest, share and protect.

France's 40-year-old president made his debut speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in front of a star-studded crowded, even by Davos' standards, with King Felipe of Spain, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde and Total SA chief executive officer Patrick Pouyanne among those in the audience.

Macron told them it's time for a new framework to rein in the excesses of global capitalism.

"This framework should be based on cooperation and multilateralism," Macron said. "This new framework is the unique way to protect our interests in the long run."

Macron's speech, however, was pitched as much at his domestic audience as those in the room. In France, critics have accused him of being the "president of the rich" as he sets out to cut back some protections for workers and lower taxes.

The French leader's approval rating has stabilized around 50 per cent after taking a dive during the fall as he emerged from the honeymoon period that followed his surprise election victory in May.

Versailles Reception Macron already wooed executives including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg at the Palace of Versailles this week as he sought to attract investment.

In Davos, there were signs that he's succeeding in shifting executives' views of France.

"I was a long-term France bear," Tidjane Thiam, chief executive officer of Credit Suisse Group AG, said on Tuesday. "Now I'm a France bull."

Speaking in a mix of French and English like Canada's Justin Trudeau, with whom he shares both political views and style, Macron called on executives and officials to avoid a "race to the bottom" on taxes and trade standards, and instead to focus on the common good, social cohesion, health, education, climate and the fight against inequality.

Macron repeated his plea to giant tech companies such as Alphabet's Google, Facebook, Apple and to pay a fair share of taxes as they displace traditional industries as the biggest sources of revenue in the global economy. He said their tax optimization strategies are hurting ordinary people and undermining governments.

"I want these changes, but they must pay their taxes," he said.


The president also used his speech to repeat the mantra of his first months in office: "France is back."

"France is back at the core of Europe," he said. "Because we will never have any French success without success in Europe."

The slogan, posted on his Twitter account again on Wednesday, is meant as another appeal to those wondering where to place their factories, money or talents.

In an interview with the Swiss national television RTS, Macron also called on US President Donald Trump "to be onboard with us on multilateralism," adding that he "highly recommended" to the American leader that he should come to Davos "to explain his strategy, for the US and for the world."

The French president said he told Trump that it would be good for him "to be confronted with other ideas" by joining global executives and leaders at the forum in Switzerland.

Macron's appeal to investors in Davos emphasised Europe's commitment to the multilateral system and political stability, and he called on leaders to rethink the rules of the global economy.

He was due to meet with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah II in bilateral side meetings, according to an agenda provided by his office.

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