Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to visit New Orleans in almost a half century on Friday, and while his one-day whirlwind tour saw him get down to serious business, he also strolled his way through the French Quarter as crowds gathered and street musicians played.
At one point, he swayed to a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He shook hands with onlookers along the way. He also happened to meet, privately, with Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and new owner of Twitter.
The amble through the Vieux Carre made for an auspicious start to Macron’s visit – and Louisiana has high hopes that what followed will prove beneficial to both France and the president’s hosts. That included an agreement signed on energy transition, the announcement of support for French language education and discussions with Louisiana culture bearers.
In a speech at the New Orleans Museum of Art, he spoke fondly of Louisiana and New Orleans, praising its melting pot makeup and ability to overcome catastrophe as an example in a time of division.
“When I look at the unique history of New Orleans … ,” he said, “it’s not a history of Black and White; it’s a history of men and women.”
He closed his speech with “laissez les bon temps rouler.”
It was the first visit to this former French colony by a French president since 1976, and it provided Macron with a unique opportunity in the United States to address two subjects he holds dear: the environment and promoting the French language globally.
Crowds gathered along the barricades set up around the Cabildo, where Macron and his wife, Brigitte, were greeted by Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
His French Quarter walk led him to the environmental discussions. A few blocks away from where he began his walk at the Cabildo, he met with Gov. John Bel Edwards at The Historic New Orleans Collection. Their talks centered on climate change, with Edwards later describing Louisiana as the state most at risk because of it. An agreement was then signed that will see a French expert work with the state on energy transition.
Edwards later spoke of the agreement potentially opening Louisiana to more foreign investment, as well as helping his administration’s goal of reaching “net zero” carbon by 2050.
“We’re going to see windmills in the Gulf of Mexico in the next few years, right alongside oil and gas platforms,” Edwards said. “And I think that is the way forward. That’s the responsible approach. Because we have to succeed in this energy transition. We are the state most affected by climate change.”
And while pointing to the state’s high levels of carbon emissions, the Democratic governor also spoke of Louisiana being the only Gulf South state to have a climate action plan.
Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron visit New Orleans on Friday for the first visit by a French president in almost a half century, a…
After Macron departed the Quarter, he made his way to City Park, where he spoke at the New Orleans Museum of Art to a reception that included a range of figures representing the various French dialects still spoken in Louisiana. That includes Cajun, Creole and Indigenous communities that have adopted versions of the language as their own. But beyond that, French language education has flourished in general in Louisiana in recent years, including through the growth of French immersion schools.
It was at the museum that he spoke of the launch of a fund to support French language education called “French for All,” warmly received by those in attendance, ranging from French educators to scholars and musicians.
Zachary Richard, the renowned Cajun musician, opened the reception with a traditional song, “Aux Natchitoches,” and said he appreciated Macron’s comments about wanting French to be an inclusive language, accepting of various dialects across the world.
“He was validating the existence of the French language community in Louisiana, which is part of a larger Francophone community throughout the world,” Richard said afterward.
It was unclear where the meeting with Musk had occurred, but Macron tweeted that it happened in the afternoon. The French president said he discussed electric vehicles with the Tesla chief as well as content moderation and freedom of expression on Twitter.
Macron was only the third French president to visit Louisiana. Valery Giscard d’Estaing traveled to Lafayette and New Orleans in 1976, while Charles de Gaulle visited in 1960.
His trip came on the heels of his state visit to Washington, where he engaged in talks with President Joe Biden over tense issues including Russia’s war in Ukraine, energy and trade. But Thursday night’s state dinner provided him with another dose of Louisiana: Kenner native Jon Batiste performed, and a range of state figures were in attendance, including Edwards and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise.
Discussions in Washington likely included the supply of liquefied natural gas. Louisiana has emerged as a hub for LNG production, and European countries are in search of alternatives to Russian gas. However, European officials have expressed concern over the high price of U.S. natural gas as the war in Ukraine rages.