Written by By Mélanie Berliet, CNN
Quebec has been a step ahead of English-speaking neighbors Canada and the United States when it comes to issues around language. Last year, the province implemented controversial policies to restrict the distribution of French-language newspapers and television programs to the province. And when language is a pressing issue, French-speakers often point to President Emmanuel Macron of France as their model.
“In his mandate, Emmanuel Macron wasn’t entirely on board with the idea of language as a universal tool, but that’s changed a bit recently,” says France Now Program Director Sarah Hinchey. “He’s really more pragmatic than before.”
These days, French is increasingly the foundation of the country’s economy. And as French students become more fluent in the language — according to recent research by Anne-Sophie Bourdeau, a French senator and former president of the National Assembly — French influences are spreading.
1 / 20 See a short video about a French language school on the tiny island of Réunion. The island was once home to a French colony, now a part of India.
Demographic trends are giving rise to a new generation of French-speaking travelers.
But instead of encouraging that national pride, some in the French government — notably the Education Ministry — are pressuring schools to reduce the number of their students who choose to learn French.
To France’s left, this proves the role that the language plays in France’s identity. That sentiment was demonstrated by French historians, such as Hans Kamin, when he noted that the spread of the French language was not only essential for creating French civilization but also a key step for national morale.
“Without the French language, without the French presence on the world’s playing field, we would have been incapable of having built France,” Kamin said in 2013.
But behind this symbolic motivation is a simple reality: Many French-speaking countries — mainly in the European Union — agree that having French is a necessary condition for them to be able to attract foreign business and investments.
“To be competitive in the world, France will need to have a stronger and deeper French presence internationally,” suggests France Today . An increase in the number of French-speakers with the language — even if not at a sufficiently high level — therefore presents a risk to France’s economy.
If the universities and high schools in Québec were to make every effort to attract more students with the knowledge of French, France Today predicts that there will be fewer French students in the future. That would decrease the pool of highly skilled talent that France needs to attract from abroad.
Although the language laws in Québec now seem more outdated, Macron’s government did invest more than just money in recent days: French-speaking nationals will have greater representation in the ruling institutions, including the Council of State — the government’s highest court — that shares power with the Senate.
He also stressed that “the culture of French” is an asset in ensuring the success of the European project. This has further sparked debates about the future of the centuries-old accord that binds the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean through a series of treaties.
“If there is a chance for Macron’s project to triumph, that’s really because of an unprecedented nationalism that’s been building up in France,” says Hinchey. “It’s perceived as a long-term success of nationalism.
“But the countries that (don’t get on board with the ‘nation’ factor’) may find themselves isolated.”