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"We like innovation. We want innovative people," Emmanuel Macron says.

Emmanuel Macron/En Marche!

Climate scientists wary of Trump: Please come to France, says presidential hopeful

The mediagenic wunderkind of French presidential politics has a message for U.S. scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs working on climate change and worrying about their future under President Donald Trump: Come to France.

In a video posted to his Facebook and Twitter accounts late last night (and hashtagged #ScienceMarch), Emmanuel Macron renewed his commitment to fighting global warming and extended a warm welcome: "We want people working on climate change, energy, renewables, and new technologies. France is your nation."

He may well get an opportunity to make good on his promise. Polls released this week suggest that Macron, the founder of a new center-left party who is campaigning on environmental protection, has soared past two more traditional candidates and is likely to face Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme-right National Front, in the 7 May runoffs. One poll says he'd defeat her with 63% of the votes.

For most scientists, moving to France is easier said than done, says Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. "It’s not as if you can just pick up a NASA climate satellite and just reassign it to France," Halpern says. "But politicians the world over now recognize that science is a global endeavor, and seem increasingly eager to ensure that it is not disrupted by political interference. Gag orders and immigration bans do make it more challenging for scientists to do their work."  

Macron began wooing disgruntled U.S. scientists at a mass rally in Lyon, France, on Saturday. After a clip made the rounds on social media, he recorded a new message that has him looking straight into the camera and delivering his message in English, a language most French politicians never use in public. "I do know how your new president has decided to jeopardize your budget, your initiatives, as he is extremely skeptical about climate change," Macron says. "I have no doubt regarding climate change and how committed we have to be regarding this issue."

He goes on to assure French and European researchers that, should he become president, France will "reinforce its investments" and make good on the Paris climate agreement. "And second, a message for you guys," he continues. "Please come to France. You are welcome. … We like innovation. We want innovative people."

"I can see how it would be appealing for scientists to spend more time doing research and less time dealing with harassment," Halpern says. "But it’s less likely that other countries are going to make sure that U.S. states and cities have the right data to respond to drought and sea level rise, so I’d prefer that the U.S. continue to be a welcoming place for all scientists."

And some U.S. scientists might not find the French research climate so enticing. France's overall spending on R&D is currently at 2.23% of gross domestic product, whereas the United States is at 2.79%, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. French researchers have often taken to the streets during the past decade to protest budget reductions, and there are complaints about an abundance of bureaucracy in French research organizations. Macron has made the environment a leading issue in his campaign, but has said relatively little about science policy so far.

Macron is a former investment banker and minister of economy, industry and digital affairs in the cabinet of former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls. He left the government in 2016 to start his own party, En Marche!, which has a social-liberal platform to end the traditional left-right divide, "unblock France," and get the economy moving again.