Shaping the French economic landscape at the Bercy conference for French executives at international companies

Shaping the French economic landscape at the Bercy conference for French executives at international companies
Philippe Stéfanini, the CEO of Provence Promotion and Christian Auboyneau, General Manager of D.Z.A.
31 August 2023 / doing business in provence, Grow your business

An interview with Christian Auboyneau, the Managing Director of D.Z.A, and Philippe Stéfanini, the CEO of Provence Promotion

Christian Auboyneau, the Managing Director of D.Z.A., a consultancy and community that supports the development of international companies in France and Europe, and Philippe Stéfanini, the CEO of the economic development agency for the Aix-Marseille-Provence metro area and the Pays d’Arles territory, share their thoughts about the key issues to be raised at the upcoming conference for French executives working at multinational firms.

Initiated in 2012 by France’s international business community in conjunction with Business France and the French treasury office, the 11th edition of the economic policy conference will take place on September 5 at the Centre Pierre Mendès-France at the Ministry of the Economy, Finance, and Industry in the Bercy neighborhood of Paris. This conference is a precursor to the broader États de la France conference that assesses the state of international investment in France and the overall appeal of the French economy.

1. Can you explain the importance of the 11th edition of the conference for executives at international companies that will be held on September 5 at the Ministry of the Economy’s Centre Pierre Mendès-France?

Christian Auboyneau: This event is a highlight for our community of executives, who represent 80% of the international companies established in France. It gives companies with predominantly international capital the opportunity to discuss issues related to economic development and attractiveness with the French government and the central administration. Nearly 60 CEOs have confirmed their attendance to discuss a range of topics. Together, they will draw up recommendations based on annual trends, which will then be submitted to Business France and the president’s office at the end of October. Olivier Becht, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade, Attractiveness, and French Citizens Abroad, and Christophe Béchu, the Minister for the Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion, will open and close the discussions. It’s important to remember that international companies in France carry a great deal of economic weight. They are responsible for more than 25% of industrial jobs and generate 30% of GDP and foreign trade.

Philippe Stéfanini: As the economic development agency for the Aix-Marseille metro area, we pay close attention to the expectations of international business leaders, and we look forward to participating in the 11th edition of the conference. It is essential for Provence Promotion to ensure our territory is able to provide companies with what they need to establish and develop their activities in Aix-Marseille-Provence. These needs may be structural or linked to specific human resources, and it is vital to take them into account. This conference is a valuable source of information.

2. Have you noticed any changes in the commitment and contributions of international business leaders over time?

Christian Auboyneau: There is enormous potential for more international investment in France. In the space of seven years, we have risen from 4th to 1st place in Europe. As we have moved from challenger to leader, the commitment of international business leaders has naturally evolved. Over time, their expectations have become more refined. The aim of this conference is to stay attuned to their needs and sustain these positive results. Interactions with government agencies are becoming more fluid and regulatory frameworks need to be more stable, but new issues have also arisen, particularly in connection with longer-term projects such as decarbonization and the green and energy transitions. Faced with land constraints in the Paris area and fierce competition in the job market, companies are also looking to expand elsewhere in France, particularly international groups that are less concerned by the idea of having centralized operations. To facilitate these investments, we support the organization of forums on the industrial ecosystems of the different French regions, such as the Forum Aix-Marseille.

Philippe Stéfanini: For the second year in a row, we are organizing the Forum Aix-Marseille in partnership with the États de la France economic conference. This will be held in conjunction with similar forums in Lille and Lyon, two areas that, along with Marseille, form the backbone of French industrial activity. This regional mobilization demonstrates the role played by metro areas in attracting international investment. The Forum Aix-Marseille, which is scheduled for September 26, will help enrich the discussions and recommendations addressed to the senior members of the French government and the president’s office.

3. This conference is now in its 11th year, and the previous one produced 22 recommendations. Can you cite examples of proposals that have been implemented and have had a positive impact on France’s economic appeal to international companies?

Christian Auboyneau: The issue of talent and human resources is key, and some of our recommendations concern training, particularly work-study programs. In line with our proposals, the French Secretary of State for Vocational Education and Training asked us to participate in the current reform of vocational high schools. France has 2100 vocational schools for 600 000 young people. Too few of them enter the job market. The project aims to introduce a fourth year of work-study with “company” mentors to ease their transition to employment. Another recommendation made to Business France and the president’s advisors in 2022 concerned the commercial relations between producers and retailers. Since then, the Descrozaille law was adopted by the National Assembly on March 22, 2023. We were also consulted by the fact-finding mission set up at the initiative of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior on visa policies to facilitate work permits.

Philippe Stéfanini: Our participation in the États de la France is a collective one, involving not only the Port of Marseille Fos, the Marseille Provence Airport, and Euroméditerranée, but also the Top 20 club for Aix-Marseille’s largest companies. The French executives at the international companies that participate in the États de la France are the people who can recommend that their parent companies invest in France’s largest metro areas as an alternative to traditional European business capitals. These executives have high expectations in terms of education and training, and they are supporting the development of multilingual education in France, which is why the development of the future Cité Scolaire international school in Marseille is so important. They are also focused on the production of low-carbon energies, so the work being done at the Port of Marseille-Fos, which is at the forefront of green energy innovation in France, is essential. In addition to the speakers at the round tables on talent and decarbonization, we have also invited two key figures to the Forum Aix-Marseille on September 26: Ibrahim Majid, the Managing Director of the British company EP Group, and Bernard Beignier, the head of the Académie d’Aix-Marseille school district that oversees primary, secondary and post-secondary education in the territory.