France reaffirms call for ‘EU tech awakening’ – EURACTIV

France reaffirmed its ambition to see the emergence of tech giants on European soil during the first day of the EU Digital Sovereignty Conference in Paris on Monday (7 February). EURACTIV France reports.

The conference should be one of the major events of the French EU Council presidency, which has placed digital regulation at the top of its list of priorities.

Organised in Bercy, the two-day conference will see a parade of Commissioners and EU lawmakers, civil society organisations, tech companies, and experts discussing the construction of digital sovereignty in Europe.

The French government has made this theme a battle horse, both on the European scene and at home, despite criticism from the opposition and among players in the French digital ecosystem.

A ‘European digital awakening’

“There is no longer any political sovereignty without technological sovereignty,” declared French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who also called for “a European technological awakening” in the face of China and the US.

He explained that it would be precisely a “third model, in the hands of the sovereign people”, that France wishes to see emerge in Europe.

Alongside normative power, the ability to innovate and resilience, France is defending “open” sovereignty that promotes free standards and the “digital commons” – resources produced and managed by a community, like Wikipedia or Framasoft, which offers free software as an alternative to Microsoft 365.

To help these often threatened digital commons remain “free and open”, France’s EU Minister Clément Beaune unveiled a new initiative backed by the European Commission and involving 16 member countries. It will include an “incubator” and the provision of experts to help develop these commons, he said.

Tuesday will be devoted to the Scale-up Europe initiative. Discussions will take place about how to ensure the EU start-up ecosystem grows with the aim of having the 10 EU tech giants French President Emmanuel Macron has called for.

A new “fund of funds” worth billions of euros will be unveiled, Le Maire also said.

Macron wants Europe to have 10 tech giants worth €100 billion by 2030

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the objective of having “10 companies worth €100 billion by 2030” on Tuesday (15 June) after he received the “Scale-Up Europe” collective on Tuesday (15 June), which presented him with its recommendations to encourage the emergence of digital giants in Europe.

Cloud

The economy minister also reiterated France’s ambition to contribute €300 million to the Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) on the cloud – a massive multi-billion euro investment plan coordinated at the EU level, in which a dozen member states are to take part.

The first project notifications should arrive by spring at the latest, he said.

It is particularly with this kind of instrument that the minister hopes to regain the continent’s digital sovereignty. He warned that it is high time the EU jumped on the bandwagon of public support for disruptive innovations, in the face of the US and China, which have not shied away from it to develop their champions.

According to Le Maire, this is a “political revolution” that will make it possible to break with the “stupidity”, “cowardice” and “failure” to which previous strategies have led.

It is not certain that this announcement will entirely delight players of the French cloud industry, however, particularly as some bemoan the government for giving the lion’s share to the American giants, particularly in public procurement or in its “trusted cloud” strategy.

The “trusted cloud” strategy allows national companies and US technologies to form alliances, by way of a licensing system, with the aim of offering solutions that will eventually be certified by a label.

Marie-Laure Denis, president of France’s data watchdog known as CNIL, also said she was “looking forward to these partnerships” during one of the discussions.

This vision of digital sovereignty has also managed to crystallise the criticism of all the presidential candidates, while the general spirit of the campaign revolves around the idea of “taking back control”, Nicolas Vanbremeersch, the president of think tank Renaissance numérique told EURACTIV.

The subject is politically sensitive. The French ecosystem, for instance, last week decried the list of speakers at the event, which included Microsoft President Brad Smith.

“European digital sovereignty cannot be achieved by turning in on oneself or in autarky,” the office of the Secretary of State for the Digital Economy explained at the time. It specified, however, that it was a matter of allowing “a demanding dialogue”.

YouTube – which is owned by Google – was also supposed to be present but was unable to join the panels due to the time difference.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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