‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ Emma Lazarus’ sonnet The new Collosus, written in 1883, is emblazoned in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty (the piece was actually auctioned to raise money for the construction of the pedestal). The statue was a gift from France to the US – and if Lazarus were living today she may well be shocked at the reversal of fortunes. Now it is la République beckoning to those in the Land of the Free: a call to arms following US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement on 1 June.
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron first asked climate change scientists to move to France in February. Now, less than a month after taking office, he has sweetened the pot. Scientists working on climate change can apply via a website (cheekily called Make Our Planet Great Again) for a relocation grant funded by the French National Research Agency. Experienced researchers with a 15-year track record are offered a €1.5 million (£1.3 million), four-year grant to relocate (individually or with their team) to France. The programme promises to sort out all the administrative issues, provide a relocation package and ensure spouses are granted a work permit. Junior researchers with at least two years’ postdoc experience are enticed with a similar package of up to €1 million; PhD candidates or graduates are also invited.
Sound too good to be true? It probably is. It’s a wily move by Macron, and a masterclass in political PR, but it’s too early to tell if it’s anything more than that. Macron’s message on Twitter may have been retweeted over 240,000 times, but there’s no guarantee applications will be accepted and very little substance about what exactly is on offer or how this is different from any other immigration scheme.
What is certain is that this is the birth of a new kind of diplomacy; institutions and countries have long courted scientists to join them, but rarely has social media, popularist zeitgeist and a tantalising grant been blended together so expertly. It’s the finest piece of migratory propaganda since Lady Liberty beckoned to those poor, huddled masses across the Atlantic in 1886 and gave birth to the American Dream.