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Another major reason for the powerlessness of the politicians is the morphing of the old Paris-centered France into a more complex, decentralized nation. A keen observer of this process is U.S. Ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn, who has set up five new American diplomatic posts in various cities in response to it. "I saw that the combination of the euro and the single European market, and the elimination of frontiers, was inevitably going to lead to a decentralization and increase the importance of regional centers and cities as they created their own alliances," says Rohatyn. "More and more businesses are migrating out of Paris, and this decentralization will only accelerate with the development of the Internet."
According to the 1999 census, Paris is losing population, while up-and-coming centers like Toulouse, Lyons and Lille are gaining. The southwest is currently France's fastest-growing region. Analysts attribute the shift to quality-of-life issues, a discovery of the cultural richness of the provinces and a resurgence of regional identity--all aided by technological advances that offer workers and companies an unprecedented degree of mobility. "If you are a successful start-up in Bordeaux or Toulouse in the technology field," says economist and author Alain Minc, "the question for the boss is whether to stay in Toulouse or move to London, not Paris. Formerly, they had to go to Paris to be close to the banks and have a decent work force." "France no longer passes through Paris but through Alsace, Provence, Brittany," says journalist Yannick Le Bourdonnec, author of a book on the regional trend. "Paris no longer imposes itself on the image of France."
Another striking aspect of the French renaissance is the rapid development of the New Economy. France was slower off the mark to embrace the digital revolution than the U.S. and some of its European neighbors, but the number of Internet connections has increased fivefold since 1997, and the financing of high-tech start-ups has tripled in the past year. Says Jacques Attali, a former economic adviser to President Mitterrand: "Two years ago, there was less than $100 million available for start-ups. Now it's nearly $2 billion." Among the new companies that are becoming household names in France: Fi System, a consulting firm that constructs websites and develops Internet strategies for traditional firms as well as start-ups; Tocamak, a so-called start-up accelerator that invests in and advises fledgling Internet companies; and the Web portal MultiMania.
Attitudes are also changing in a fashion that embraces the New Economy. Two famed French characteristics--an innate suspicion of wealth and a fear of risk--are fast breaking down as a younger generation taps into the Internet revolution. "Ten years ago," says Minc, "only 1 out of 200 graduates of France's elite universities said he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Today it's more than half." Indeed, the rise of the young, well-educated, global-minded generation is one of the most important forces driving the French renaissance in almost every area.