French President Emmanuel Macron is considering traveling to New Orleans in the coming days as part of his state visit to the United States, French media reported Tuesday, in what would be the first French head of state since 1976.
The trip would take place in conjunction with Macron’s state visit from November 30 to December. 2 and will likely focus on historical connections and potential environmental issues, one of the French President’s main areas of focus. The New Orleans leg has not been officially confirmed but is being heavily considered, French news magazine Le Point reported, citing an anonymous French Presidency source. The French consulate in New Orleans could not confirm the report.
Given the ties between France and its ex-colony, it would have strong symbolism. It comes just over three centuries after New Orleans was founded on territory claimed by France, which was eventually sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Macron has expressed a keen interest in promoting the French language worldwide, and France has long supported efforts to preserve the use of French dialects in Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole communities. Louisiana joined the international organization of French-speaking governments, the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie, as an observer in 2018.
The source cited by Le Point said the visit was an opportunity to celebrate the “French spirit” in Louisiana.
Local officials had hoped for a visit from the French president as New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary this year, but Macron was unable to plan a detour from his state visit to Washington at the time. Instead, Louisiana officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. scythes Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, attended the Washington state dinner, which included a jambalaya dish — though Kennedy referred to it as “Washington jambalaya.”
The upcoming visit would be seen as a surrogate — and certainly welcomed by state and local officials eager to promote Louisiana as a business and tourism destination.
The last visit by a French President to Louisiana was in 1976, when Valery Giscard d’Estaing traveled to Lafayette and New Orleans as part of another state visit. On that visit, Giscard d’Estaing spoke at the Blackham Coliseum in Lafayette and at a luncheon at the Superdome, which had opened less than a year earlier.
French President Charles de Gaulle also visited New Orleans in 1960.
Macron’s trip will be the first state visit of President Joe Biden’s administration as the pandemic has delayed plans. It will no doubt be consumed by the gamut of global concerns, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to trade relations and energy supplies.
However, environmental issues may play an important role, especially after this month’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Macron has tried to position France as a frontrunner in the fight against climate change.
Louisiana would serve as an appropriate backdrop for Macron’s environmental concerns. Louisiana is considered by some experts to be the US state most at risk from climate change and will face a range of impacts in the coming years.
Perhaps most urgent is sea level rise, one of several factors wiping out the Louisiana coast.
At the same time, energy discussions can also involve Louisiana. With supplies of Russian natural gas cut off due to the invasion of Ukraine, European nations have been looking for alternative sources, including liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from Louisiana.
Southwest Louisiana has become a center for the production of LNG.
Despite being touted as cleaner than coal by government and industry officials, natural gas is nonetheless a fossil fuel that emits significant amounts of greenhouse gases that drive climate change. Environmentalists oppose expanded use for this reason, arguing that nations should instead focus more on renewable energy development.
While France imports significant amounts of oil and natural gas, its electricity-related emissions have been lower than other countries due to the widespread use of nuclear energy. It has attempted to switch to renewable sources and passed legislation in 2019 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
In a way, France has become synonymous with the global effort to combat global warming. The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Ex-President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. On Biden’s first day in office in January 2021, he recommitted the US to the deal.