Paris: France’s World Cup 2018 victory over Croatia drew thousands of people into the streets in celebration, as it gave the country a much-needed morale boost after a decade of moroseness brought on by terrorist attacks and a lacklustre economy. Overjoyed supporters holding blue-red-white flags in streets, cars, at home windows, screamed of joy on Sunday. Chanting the national Marseillaise anthem in Paris metro, on the Rhone river banks cafes, people kissed, applauded and sung the “I will Survive" tune that was also the 1998 victory tune, when France had first won the title in the world’s most popular sport.
While the feel-good moment is bringing the nation together in a way only tragic events have in the past, don’t expect it to translate into something to take to the bank, economists warned.
“Les Bleus," as the national team is called for their blue jerseys, are poised to come home from Russia with the 6-kg solid gold trophy. Millions are expected to greet the team, with its strikers 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, as it descends on Monday afternoon on the French capital’s landmark Champs Elysees avenue.
“The victory will clearly impact the social cohesion in France: It brings people together, it creates a sense of national community," said Nathalie Henaff, a research follow at the Limoges University economy of sports study department. “French people will consume differently, spend more time outdoors to celebrate, change behaviour for some time so we will witness a transfer of consumption. For the economy, it will be marginal. It’s a wash."
France won against Croatia 4 goals to 2 in the Sunday game at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium. In the run up to the final, the French beat teams from nations including Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium. Croatia won its qualification against England and eliminated host nation Russia.
“In the past, French people only got together, in national union, after tragic events such as the terrorist attacks," said Bernard Sananes who heads the Elabe polling institute. “This is a happy moment, a positive moment that they have been craving for."
French President Emmanuel Macron, a self-proclaimed football fan, who was at the game in Moscow, jumped in joy and congratulated Croatia’s leader Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović after the 11-men team was declared victorious. His wife Brigitte Macron was dancing arms in arms with sports minister Laura Flessel.
As celebrations begin, the crowds of fans in and around Paris will be under the protection of over 12,000 members of the police force, from plainclothes agents patrolling the streets to anti-riots units, according to the city’s authorities. The police prefect said the celebration will take place amid a “real terrorist threat." Parts of the capital city have been closed to vehicles since the team won and will remain for part of the day.
Crowds flocked to the landmark Champs Elysees avenue where French people gather ritually in major celebrations. Over 90,000 supporters cheered at the protected “fan zone" next to the Eiffel Tower. French team fans supported their teams in over 230 of such zones across the country, under the protection of over 110,000 police forces in France’s biggest security operation this year.
For all the celebration, the victory’s impact on the euro area’s second-biggest economy will barely be felt, analysts said. Eurler Hermes’ Ludovic Subran said the victory may add 0.1 percentage points to France’s gross domestic product (GDP). The economy may expand 1.9% instead of 1.8%, according to the Paris-based economist’s forecast. It will also improve consumption by 0.2 points to 1.3%, he said.
Finance minister Bruno Le Maire was more confident ahead of the game.
“A World Cup victory gives French people confidence," he said on France 2 television on 11 July 11. “There is a part of irrationality in economy, that thrives on confidence, desire and enthusiasm."
The 1998 win prompted a small jump in consumer confidence with no noticeable impact on the GDP. French economic growth this year may fall short of the government’s 2% forecast and is set to slow in the years after, according to the Bank of France. It expanded 2% in 2017, a six-year high.
For Macron, the victory is good news and plays into the “France is back" narrative that he has promoted at home at abroad. Still, he might not get the bounce that then French President Jacques Chirac got in 1998.
Chirac gained from a feeling of “euphoria", with a 15 percentage-point jump in popularity and an approval rating that flirted with 70%, according to Ipsos. He maintained that high level for over a couple years, also helped by the fact that he was leaving the day-to-day management of his country to his prime minister.
Macron doesn’t enjoy the same level of support from his people 14 months into office as he seeks to push through reforms to everything from the labour market to retirement, health and unemployment benefits.
He’s in “a fragile" situation, Les Echos newspaper said in its 12 July editorial. His popularity has fallen to an average of 33%, down 13 percentage points since the start of the year, hovering very close to the record low of his predecessor and former boss, Socialist President Francois Hollande.
“Macron will try hard to show he’s not seeking to use the victory for his own political goals," said Sananes. “He is trying to rectify his image right now, trying to show humility because he is tagged as arrogant and disconnected from people’s problem. It will be a balancing act to take a low profile while celebrating a major victory."
Phil Serafino contributed to this story.