France has risen from fifth to first in the space of a year, according to researchers for the Soft Power 30 index published on Tuesday. Germany fell from fourth to fifth over the same period.
"France's soft power has no doubt seen a boost with the defeat of the National Front and election of its youngest ever president, Emmanuel Macron," the report's authors noted.
The Soft Power 30 is not just about political leadership - it also makes reference to the number of Michelin-starred restaurants a country has. France's vast diplomatic network was also given credit for its growing global influence.
In noting France's rise, the report also acknowledged threats to its security: "The threat of terrorism has not stopped tourists flocking to France and enjoying its rich cultural offering, cuisine, and lifestyle - France's restaurant scene is unrivalled, its film sector continues to flourish, and its museums and galleries are some of the most visited in the world."
Using data and polls in 25 countries, PR firm Portland Communications working with the University of Southern California school of public diplomacy looked at data from six categories: government, culture, global engagement, education, digital and enterprise. It also included a country's attractiveness for both tourists and foreign students.
In its introduction, the report explains power in the past was determined largely by armies and economic might. Today, it argues, power has become more diffuse and has also moved away from governments as "more non-state actors leverage international influence," due largely to the digital revolution.
To achieve foreign policy goals and influence outcomes, countries are encouraging collaboration and building networks and relationships.
Germany falls slightly
While Germany held on to its top-five ranking, it did fall from second place in 2015, through third in 2016 to fourth in 2017 "despite an improved overall score." The report described it as "a difficult year for the Germans" dealing with the impact of terror, an increase in the number of migrant arrivals and emergence of a far-right political party.
While Germany improved or maintained its ranking across data in sub-indices, it fell in polling and the report noted for the future: "All eyes will be on Germany as it seeks to reassert its position as the primary driver of Europe's agenda."
US and UK on the decline
The report noted a decline in soft power for the US under the administration of President Donald Trump. "Trump's ‘America First' doctrine has played poorly abroad, alienating allies, and damaging links with the rest of the world," it noted.
While the UK held on to second place in 2016, which was down from first place the year before, the decision to leave the European Union has been consequential for its soft power. "Despite the looming public negotiations, the UK's objective soft power assets both state and privately owned remain strong" the report said. But a decline in favorability among European countries showed Britain's ranking was falling.
Soft powers ahead
Looking forward, the report noted, "As the European Union looks beyond Brexit and recommits to deeper integration and cooperation, perhaps the resurgence of 'Old Europe' - in terms of soft power - rests on presently being the most stable, level-headed region of the world."
"China's now three-year march up the rankings seems to match its ever-expanding global presence. At the same time, America's protectionist zeal and apparent withdrawal from the world has seen it slip down the rankings." China is ranked 25, just one point ahead of Russia but it has climbed ten points and five places since 2015.
The bottom five in the index are Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey.
Soft Power 30 authors
Portland Communication's General Manager for Asia, Jonathan McClory, is Soft Power 30's author and contributors include academics, former government and current NGO personnel, diplomats and PR experts. Named contributors include Sir Martin Davidson, Chairman of the Great Britain-China Center, Moira Whelan who worked at the US State Department and Agency for International Development, Tomas Kroyer of Argentina's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former UK diplomat Victoria Dean and Nicholas J. Cull, Professor of Public Diplomacy and the founding director of the Master of Public Diplomacy program at USC.
Jane Mcintosh (with AFP)