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‘The young feel they’ve been voting for politicians who don’t change’

Meet France’s 26-year-old dual nationality MP - he explains how a British childhood and French education have informed his politics

The Anglo-French politician, Charles Rodwell, 26, represents Yvelines in the Assemblée Nationale Pic: Charles Rodwell

Charles Rodwell may bear a British name, but his attachment to France comes straight “from the guts.”

The 26-year-old man was born in London to a British father and a French mother, but was raised in Versailles (Yvelines) from the age of seven. 

The Connexion reached out to Mr Rodwell (among the youngest new MPs to have been elected in June’s legislative elections) thinking that both his age and bi-nationality reflected signs of renewal in an Assemblée nationale often criticised for its preference for older white males.

Mr Rodwell is already a product of the elite French system, having graduated from Sciences Po, one of France’s most prestigious universities in the political sciences. 

Read more: Tale of two systems: family share French and UK education experience

He then worked as an aide for several ministers and cut his teeth in his hometown as Versailles’s deputy mayor, for the mayor François de Mazières.

He sits in number 301 at the Assemblée Nationale, is affiliated with governmental group Renaissance, is the Yvelines’ first district MP, and has close ties with Minister of the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire.

Read more: Easy-look graphic: how seats in France’s new parliament are divided

The joke about students having graduated from Sciences Po goes that they can speak for 15 minutes on any subject, for they are taught to master “bulls**t”, to quote a word employed by Mr Le Maire. 

This came across quite clearly during our 30-minute interview. 

But it is unfair to judge Mr Rodwell purely on his privileged education and ‘neat-and-tidy’ image, for that part of his British heritage has had a positive impact on his desire to serve France in a public service career. 

Emigration and the regulation of American tech companies are among the subjects he hopes to defend at the Assemblée nationale, as the ‘guttural’ French – and European – citizen he is.

The unfolding conversation was also reminiscent of the en même temps characteristic, a form of rhetoric popularised by President Emmanuel Macron, after it was noticed that he used the term extensively, and that has come to represent a policy that often presents opposing ideas.

Read more: New advisor to President Macron worked for Blair and Murdochs

How did the first months at the Assemblée Nationale go?

I’d like to say it is very dynamic. The media and social media tend to cherry-pick the vocal outbursts from the extremes of the political spectrum, but I would rather focus on the negotiation aspect of parliamentary work, especially on the spending power bill, in which the government allotted €26 billion to the French people. 

As an MP, the current parliamentary period is particularly fascinating.

You are part of a new generation of MPs. What do you hope to fight for?

Emigration, a topic as important as immigration, but often disregarded. 

France suffers from throngs of French people leaving the country who distrust its ability to provide a job or personal wellbeing. I do not accept that. 

This is the reason I worked at the Commission for economic affairs, since this is the body which gets the closest to understanding the daily life of French people, and the young in particular. 

Read more: Babies, life expectancy: how Covid has affected France’s population

They have voiced their fears about having to rely financially on their parents’ means, and about the lack of stability projected for the future.

The young shoulder a serious problem for the future. They tell us that they want the freedom to roam a liveable Earth.

I think of this as a dynamic, powerful engine that proves wrong those who believe the youth are disinterested in politics.

One could argue that abstention is France’s most influential political party, as this idea is sometimes brought up by right-wing parties

Absolutely. But why? 

Because the young feel they have been voting for politicians who don’t change, and that have degraded their quality of life. 

Anyone would think that France was in a state of persistent decay. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

France is one of the richest countries on earth, with 3,000 years of diverse history and exceptional culture, a language spoken throughout the world, and which is globally famous for its tourism, science and technology. So what do we do with that?

Do you consider yourself to be British?

Of course, even though both cultures are diametrically opposed on how they built their societies and countries, with France looking forward to Europe, while Great Britain roamed the seas. 

I also think both differ in what French people call vivre-ensemble, or through universalism and laïcité. I have seen it in my own family during Brexit. 

The French side of my family explained that the British did not see they were driving straight into a brick wall, whereas the British side felt like they were regaining their liberty. 

Why did France attract you more than the UK?

I feel ‘viscerally’ attached to France, because I feel connected to what makes France French, in other words, critical thinking, equality, liberty, its universalism and laïcité. These are the values thatI absorbed as a young child.

The French spirit is something that still exists, and will continue to exist, but it needs to be nurtured.

The main threat I see for our culture comes from the uniformity espoused by new tech companies that blend 1,000 to 2,000 years of history together.

Let’s take an example: I wake up, check my iPhone, go on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, Google things, take an Uber to travel, eat Deliveroo while watching Netflix. 

These are all forms of cultural uniformisation from the United States. It is a fundamental threat to our culture. 

I am not saying the US are our enemies but rather that their culture is not ours.

GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft) need to be regulated because it is a fundamental economic, social and cultural issue. And on economics? 

France is extending 5G technology throughout the country thanks to French people’s taxes, while these five companies consume nearly 50% of the total output without paying any taxes.

Read more: How can resident of France find best prices across Amazon’s sites?

I hear regular complaints that these companies stopped establishing European headquarters in Ireland in order to avoid taxes... 

This is why I’m rooting for a worldwide, or at least European, tax on tech giants. These companies need to pay for the service they use. 

And what about the debt that countries accrued during Covid? Should it be carried by small entrepreneurs, citizens and committees or, since they benefited greatly from the crisis, should it not be covered by GAFAM? 

I think they should.

Culture is all about how European countries want to organise it. But regulation does not mean the government should downsize its goal to attract further anglophone companies. 

When President Macron took office, France was mistrustful of foreign investors, particularly industrials, British finance companies or Americans from tech-companies. 

I think the government played the right card by lowering taxes, simplifying legislative procedures and allowing work to pay more. 

It has helped France to be the most attractive country for foreign investors for three years in a row. 

Read more: Foreign firms pledge to invest record €6.7bn in France this year

How do you hope to attract American investors after talking about the looming danger of uniformisation?

Both can be reached. Not all American investors are GAFAM. 

Europe is a cutting-edge organisation for regulating ecological, economic and social rules. 

They put ecological transition, protection of diversity and the fight against inequality at the core of what foreign companies need to abide by.

But this could have also fed the desire from British companies to look for greater liberties… 

It is because we only enforce these norms on European companies. I think the EU should export these approaches internationally. 

The issue is key. If companies abide by American regulations, the EU will lose on both environmental and social aspects. 

France is a beautiful country, but abiding by laws regulating 67 million consumers is different to America’s situation with its 450 million consumers.

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