French Cultural Pass Encourages Youth to Spend on the Arts

French Cultural Pass Encourages Youth to Spend on the Arts

On May 21st 2021, French president Emmanuel Macron announced the Culture Pass. This program  provides €300 to all 18 year olds with the provision that it must be spent on French culture. This money will promote French culture among the nation’s youth and support an industry hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

France ranks well in many qualitative estimations. It has a GDP of $2.6 trillion and per capita GDP of around $40,000, a strong human development index and relatively low inequality rates. However, there is one metric where it dominates: cultural influence. While France and Italy regularly jostle for the top spot, France’s culture is adored across the world. It boasts the largest volume of annual tourists, with income from tourism contributing to roughly 8% of France’s GDP.  Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted the industry.

The decline in tourism lost the nation approximately €61 billion in 2020. The French government attempted to support the industry by providing monetary and consulting support and promoting internal tourism. This minimized bankruptcy among businesses reliant on tourism and encouraged wealthier French citizens to spend within France. However, with the Culture Pass, Macron is looking to the future.

The Future of French Culture

France’s cultural authority is a massive driver of its position in the global economy and it’s diplomatic reputation. In a 2019 study by Portland Strategic Communications and the USC Department of Public Policy, France had the highest soft power rating in the world. The metric accounted for digital infrastructure, culture, enterprise, education, diplomatic network, and government. The report identified both global admiration for French culture and international respect for Macron as significant contributions to the nation’s soft power. 

It is French citizens that create and maintain French culture. With the advent of the internet and teens having a broader cultural perspective, many youths are not participating as much in French cultural heritage. This can be seen in how some teens are using their Culture Pass to buy Japanese comic books. While French culture is certainly in no danger of dying out and a broad cultural perspective is a definitive part of any globalized society, it is important to keep culture and tradition alive. Therefore, it is of supreme importance for the French government to support and promote French culture domestically, and in Macron’s best interest to facilitate the growth of French culture. 

The Culture Pass aims to promote French culture in several key ways. First, it provides a large injection of cash into the struggling arts industry. Over 750 thousand teens have downloaded it, meaning the 2021 Culture Pass alone will provide French culture with a €225 million Euro investment over the next two years. Second, it engages French youth with French culture. Many of the users are trying out new French cultural activities alongside their manga purchases, and are investing in the culture. Around a third are visiting museums for the first time, others are buying musical instruments, and some are returning to cinemas after a long pandemic break.

The Next Generation of Voters

The French government gives more than just the Culture Pass as an 18th birthday gift. Like much of the world, France’s voting age is 18. The annual influx of new voters is especially important given that France is experiencing low voter turnout and disillusionment with the current parties. In recent regional elections voter turnout dropped 16 points, as many French voters felt unrepresented by any of the available candidates and parties. A tight race between Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen indicates that France is caught between two identities. Both are selling an idealized version of France. 

With his celebration of French culture and dedication to international institutions, Macron evokes an image of France as a shining beacon of international culture and peace. Le Pen’s National Rally party is attempting to soften its strict image in order to appeal to more moderate voters. Some devoted party members want an even harsher stance against immigration and other deviations from French culture. 

In an attempt to unite disparate wings of the French electorate, Macron is seeking to project France as both a secure nation in its own right and a leading voice in the EU. Mutjaba Rahan quoted a 2020 speech by Macron where he said “I believe the … way forward is a strong and political Europe. Why? Because I do not believe that Europe waters down France’s voice: France … builds much more useful and stronger action when it does so through Europe.” Promoting and engaging teens in French culture helps Macron build up France as a cultural and political force. By promoting France as a European leader and not just another EU member state, Macron positions himself as a transnational figure. Similar to how Angela Merkel appealed to the wider European community, pan-European popularity would likely help Macron maintain power in France and raise the nation’s prestige in the EU.

Le Pen is attempting to soften its strict image in order to appeal to more moderate voters. Gone is the blatantly anti-semetic rhetoric of her father, yet strangely the anti-muslim philosophy can still be seen. She has been effective in projecting an aura of security for French youth, promising a decidedly French future for the nation’s youth. Unfortunately much of this comes in the form of anti-immigration declarations and warnings of an uncertain French future.

Rather than try to pull established voters to his party, Macron is looking to the untapped voters. With the establishment of the Culture Pass, these newly enfranchised French voters are likely to remember Macron giving them an extra few hundred euros as a graduation gift. With the program set to expand to middle school students in the coming years, Macron appears to be betting on the youth vote in order to secure his administration’s future. Research has shown that the youth in France tend to lean more progressive and support immigration. This would make Le Pen’s National Rally unattractive, as they are heavily correlated with anti-immigration views. 


The popularity of the Culture Pass indicates a high likelihood of continued use. As of now Macron plans to continue the program next year and even include funding for middle school cultural class trips. The French electorate, other European citizens and the directly impacted groups all look favorably upon investing in both culture and the youth. The influx of cash allows many struggling arts businesses to survive until international tourists can return and shore up lapsing revenues. The pass presents both France and Macron as dedicated supporters of both the arts and the youth, which will help maintain France’s soft power. Current polls show that Macron is neck and neck with Le Pen in the 2022 election. Therefore, securing this previously untapped youth vote could be a deciding factor in the upcoming election.

Categories: Europe, Politics

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