Macron hosts 140 chief executives in pre-Davos charm offensive

French president will host an event at Versailles chateau billed as a warm-up for the World Economic Forum

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron  walks through the Galerie des Bustes (Busts Gallery) to access the Versailles Palace in July 2017.   REUTERS/Etienne Laurent/Pool/File Photo

President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign for a "French Renaissance" kicks into overdrive on Monday as he welcomes 140 multinational business leaders before this week’s meeting of the rich and powerful in Davos.

The business-friendly president will host executives at the grand Versailles chateau near Paris for an event billed as a warm-up for Tuesday’s opening of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps.

Several companies will use the conference to announce major French investments, with Facebook revealing early on Monday that it will pour €10 million ($12.2m) into its centre in Paris developing artificial intelligence.

Japan’s Toyota is also due to reveal details of its €400m enlargement of its Onnaing car factory in northern France, with Les Echos newspaper reporting the move will create 700 jobs.

A former investment banker, Mr Macron has vowed to shake the French economy out of its listlessness with corporate tax cuts and reforms to the country’s rigid labour laws.

Economic growth has been forecast to remain at a relatively weak 1.7 per cent for both 2017 and this year, although figures have been ticking up in recent months.

A survey by the US Chamber of Commerce and consultancy Bain & Company in November found a record 72 per cent of US investors were optimistic about the French economy, a huge increase against the 30 per cent that expressed confidence in 2016.

Mr Macron’s predecessors have held similar gatherings of chief executives, but the scale of his "Choose France" conference goes far beyond those hosted by Francois Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy.

The socialist Mr Hollande hosted 34 world business leaders in 2014, while right winger Sarkozy rolled out the red carpet for 25 in 2011.

“We’ve taken advantage of the fact that economic leaders are coming to Europe by inviting 100 chief executives of the biggest world companies and developing 100 projects with them for France,” the presidency said.

Mr Macron will be flanked by 15 ministers at the conference, which comes the night before leaders from 60 countries and 1,700 businesses start to descend on Davos for the world’s most exclusive talking shop.

The French president himself takes to the stage in Davos on Wednesday, when he is set to cut a contrasting figure against US president Donald Trump.

While Mr Trump campaigned on an anti-elitist platform that railed against globalisation, his French conterpart has defended globalisation although he will call for a more balanced form of it in his Davos speech.

The 40-year-old centrist has been carving out an active role on the world stage since winning the French presidency last May, and will use his speech to “propose his international vision for the world of tomorrow,” his team said.

The speech will touch on three major challenges, according to Mr Macron’s office: growing inequality; the need for better environmental protection; and global governance in the face of nationalism and extremism.

He is due to speak the same day as German chancellor Angela Merkel and two days before Mr Trump – although officials have warned that the US government shutdown could put a brake on the president’s plans to attend.