AXA CEO Tells AAPA: Climate Change, healthcare Costs are Top Priorities

AXA CEO Thomas Buberl invited the AAPA to lunch at the company's headquarters around the corner from the Elysee Palace on January 10 for a broad on-the-record discussion dominated by the themes of instability and climate change.

Buberl, who was appointed as the third CEO of the French-headquartered international financial services company, said he believes the US-China trade war and climate change are the hallmarks of geo-political instability, adding,“I have always seen instability as a source of great potential for AXA to serve their customers better. More instability means more necessity for awareness of risks, but also more and different solutions to reduce risks.”

He also indicated he was concerned about the rise of populism and political fragmentation, Europe’s inconclusive efforts to define its role in the world, and by soaring healthcare costs and threats to cybersecurity.

Expecting interest rates to remain low for the foreseeable future, Buberl has lowered the portion of life insurance and savings in the company's portfolio from 80% to 20%.

AXA has made climate change a top priority: it is one of the first big companies to start divesting from coal and has met its pledge to raise green investments to €12 billion by 2020.

Air France-KLM boss Ben Smith talks planes, unions and greenhouse gas with the AAPA

Long lunches, long holidays, and myriad trades unions were all part of the steep learning curve facing Canadian Ben Smith when he took the helm of Air France-KLM in 2018, the affable 48-year-old told the Anglo-American Press Association.

And he had to work hard on his French, he said during a wide-ranging discussion held in the offices of Bloomberg near the Paris Opera on Friday 17 January, as a lengthy strike in France against pension reform was slowly fizzling out.

When Smith became the airline's CEO, a pilots’ strike had just cost the company €335 million. But during the latest anti-reform work stoppages nationwide, not a single Air France flight was cancelled due to a strike by airline staff, although some were affected by air traffic control industrial action, he noted.
Greta Thunberg, greenhouse gas emissions and how to lower them, labour deals, the troubled Boeing 737 Max, Airbus, Transavia, and the €120 million Air France spends to finance its comité d’entreprise, were among the many topics touched upon in the meeting with the AAPA

Macron's diplomatic advisor outlines presidential foreign policy

NATO, Trump, Brexit, Russia, trade, EU reform, European strategic sovereignty: Emmanuel Macron's diplomatic advisor provided AAPA members with insights on the French president's foreign policy thinking.
The meeting on December 17 was an off-the-record briefing provided by Emmanuel Bonne on how the centrist president is seeking to position France as he enters the second half of his five-year mandate.

Fashion's Commitment to Sustainability: Kering CSO Speaks to the AAPA

Kering's Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs, Marie-Claire Daveu, hosted the AAPA at a morning coffee on December 3 at Kering's headquarters on the rue de Sèvres in a historic building that -- until 2000 -- housed the Laennec hospital.

Kering was appointed by French president Emmanuel Macron to head the country's effort to make fashion more sustainable. It led the company to create its 2025 strategy – the deadline year by which Kering will aim to reduce its environmental footprint by 40% and its greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, and to put into effect full traceability of its raw material sourcing. Daveu also pointed out that already 67% of the energy used throughout the Kering company is created from sustainable sources.

In an effort to extend the fashion industry's commitment to sustainability beyond the luxury niche and in the long term, Kering recently created a G7 Fashion Pact, to which 56 companies in the G7 have already committed.

And, as an unintentional follow-up to the AAPA's Climate Change and Mass Migration panel discussion held November 28 at the OECD, she mentioned Kering's recognition of the link between these two phenomena, which are crucial social concerns today.

Muslim and Jewish «best friends » bring women together to fight anti-Semitism and racism

On November 12th The Anglo American Press Association had a meeting and conversation with Samia Essabaa and Suzanne Nakache, the Muslim and Jewish founders of Langage de Femmes, a multi-confessional, intergenerational group of women fighting racism and anti-Semitism in France.
France has Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations and hate crimes have grown in recent years.
But Essabaa and Nakache spoke of how their group is able to break down barriers between communities and increase understanding, by allowing women to focus on issues that unite them.
The group comes together over movies, plays, dinners and events at synagogues and mosques.
And every year they take a group of diverse women to Auschwitz to show where hatred of “the other” can lead.
-Eleanor Beardsley

Sibeth Ndiaye, the spokesperson for the French government, met with the Anglo-American Press Association on November 14th, 2019.

In a 90 minute group interview, Ndiaye discussed her attachment to France, her relationship with President Emmanuel Macron, how the crisis of the Gilets Jaunes has changed his policies, Franco-American relations, sectarianism in France, the reasons behind the strike scheduled for December 5th, pension reform, the accusation of rape against film director Roman Polanski, racism against herself, the issue of returning jihadis and the difficulty of providing housing for migrants.
Ndiaye said she decided to become a French citizen in 2016, after the death of her mother. Her parents had met in Paris when both were militant Communist students, campaigning for African independence. “Senegal and France have always been inter-mingled in my personal story. There has always been a part of me that was French,” she said.
Ndiaye first met Emmanuel Macron when he was deputy secretary general of the Élysée. “He was always very approachable, welcoming and cordial with the people around him,” she said. Their relationship was a professional one, based on great respect. She came to know him better from travelling with him on trains and planes during the 2017 presidential campaign.
“He is a stubborn, committed person,” Ndiaye said of Macron. “He is someone who doesn’t like the established order, the idea that it’s always been done like that. The idea that it’s been that way for a very long time is totally foreign to him.”
The Gilets Jaunes crisis revealed “the difficulty for a part of our country to feel fully integrated in globalisation,” Ndiaye said. Macron had realised that he could not reform “for the French in their name” but had to reform with the French. He seeks greater proximity with his compatriots during the second half of his term.
The US and France “have divergent visions of the world,” Ndiaye said. “We say frankly that we can disagree with the US government, for example regarding trade and more broadly on the question of multilateralism.”
Regarding sectarianism, Ndiaye said, “France is a nation built on the idea of the citizen belonging first of all to the national community, before being black or white, before being Jewish, Muslim, Catholic or any other identity.”
Asked to explain the mobilisation for strikes and demonstrations on December 5th, Ndiaye spoke of the “great suffering of professional categories” including hospital workers and farmers. She said pension reform is a source of disquiet for all French people. Confidence has been destroyed by the fact that governments have attempted pension reforms every five years for the past 20 years. “There are obviously categories who have legtimate worries,” she said. The government is “holding out its hand to all” and “all options are on the table.”
Ndiaye said she would not go to see Polanski’s new film about the Dreyfus Affair because of recent accusations against him, but she did not call for a boycott because there must be an investigation by the French justice system.
Social media continue to convey racist remarks about her, Ndiaye said. She paid tribute to three French politicians who “didn’t necessarily notice that I was a woman, nor that I was black,” when she worked for them: Claude Bartolone, Arnaud Montebourg and Emmanuel Macron. It registered with Macron that she was black the day security guards and police prevented her following him at the aeronautics show at Le Bourget, because they weren’t used to seeing a black person in the entourage of a cabinet minister.
Ndiaye said more than 250 jihadists have travelled from Turkey to France since 2014. It was better for French citizens who joined Islamic State to be put on trial in the region where they may have committed crimes, she said. The the issue is being dealt with on a case by case basis. Children of French jihadists could not be separated from their mothers.
Wasn’t it shameful for France to leave thousands of migrants living rough or in tents? Ndiaye was asked. She said the government had “gone to considerable effort to build welcome centres”. Fifteen thousand places had been “unblocked” in low income housing in the last 18 months, creating tension with French people on waiting lists. The government will find another 16,000 places in 2020, she said. An asylum application usually takes 18 months to be considered, but the government tries to examine the applications of people who it knows will be rejected first, Ndiaye said

Shaking it up at the Châtelet

A rare chance to watch the final rehearsals for a musical at the Théâtre du Châtelet was the cherry on the cake for AAPA members who met with the theatre's new Artistic Director on November 26.

Ruth Mackenzie is the first woman in the job, and first non-French national - she is British. She made it clear to our group that she is not at all daunted by the challenges either one of those factors might pose in a French theatre.

After her first production - "Les Justes", in September - gave Camus a rap edge, "An American in Paris" continued a new tradition at the theatre of staging American musicals in English. Mackenzie has other plans to continue to shake things up, including taking theatre to the suburbs, changing the linear training system in French theatre, and improving diversity.

Preparing for Brexit - the Irish Angle

With Brexit possibly going ahead on October 31, with or without a deal, the implications for Ireland are manifold and complicated.
A high-ranking Irish diplomat sat down with AAPA members at the Irish Embassy for a background briefing on the latest progress in talks, the risks of a no-deal Brexit, the high stakes for Ireland, and some of the plans already in place to limit the chaos if Britain crashes out of the European Union.

Women spies and how to write a best-seller

With an eye on D-Day stories and tips on how to write a best-selling novel, AAPA members had a wide-ranging exchange with Washington-based British novelist Jennifer Ryan.
Ryan’s best-selling debut novel “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir” was about women in World War II, and she continued the theme in her second novel, published in June 2019, “The Spies of Shilling Lane”. She shared stories of women spies in WWII and women involved in D-Day, offering profiles and anecdotes.
On writing a best-selling novel, the book editor turned author advised the group to target their audience well, and carve out a niche for themselves. She also cautioned eager writers to decide if they wanted to sacrifice commercial success for critical acclaim, warning that the two rarely go hand in hand.

Europe Minister de Montchalin tells AAPA that France’s Brexit red lines stand

One of the newest and youngest members of the French government met the Anglo-American Press Association in late June to talk about some of the most important issues facing France and Europe.
Amélie de Montchalin was appointed Secretary of State for European Affairs only three months earlier, taking over from Nathalie Loiseau who had quit the government to lead President Emmanuel Macron’s party in the European election campaign.
The 34-year-old gave up a high-flying business career in banking and insurance to run for Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party in the country’s 2017 parliamentary elections.
De Montchalin received AAPA members in the gilded surroundings of the Foreign Ministry’s Quai d’Orsay headquarters to answer questions about Brexit, the outcome of the European elections, and the future leadership of the European Union´s institutions.
Speaking only days after Theresa May announced her resignation as British Prime Minister after repeatedly failing to get the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the EU through parliament, de Montchalin said that the EU’s internal market, and the so-called four freedoms for the movement of goods, services, workers and capital, would remain red lines for France in ongoing Brexit talks.
If the United Kingdom wanted to leave the EU, everything needed for an orderly Brexit was already on the table, but the important thing now was the future relationship, where there were many possibilities, she said.
France and the EU were prepared for a no-deal Brexit, even though they didn’t want it, de Montchalin insisted.
The secretary of state was sceptical about the possibility of a second referendum in the UK overturning Brexit, saying that there was considerable division in British society between Leavers and Remainers and a second vote would not resolve that problem.
But she was unwilling to be drawn on reports in British media that Boris Johnson, then running for leadership of the country´s Conservative Party, had called the French side “turds” because of their position on Brexit issues. (Johnson later said he had “no recollection” of making the alleged remark.)
“I prefer not to comment on words that I do not understand myself, because it’s a linguistic register I did not learn in school,” was her diplomatic response.
-Pól O'Grádaigh