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An exceptional interview. Few days from the second round of the presidential election in France, Emmanuel Macron has agreed to answer our questions about digital technology, a poorly outlined topic during the run for the French presidency.
The candidate decided to adress this topic with the Big Whale to both discuss results achieved during his five years term and to indicate his vision of a potential second term. Emmanuel Macron also took advantage of this interview to make announcements about start-ups ecosystem and the european crypto regulation.
THE BIG WHALE : People are increasingly talking about the Web3. What does it represent for you? Is it an opportunity?
EMMANUEL MACRON : It represents a requirement, as well as an opportunity not to be missed. The opportunity for France and Europe to lead the future generations of the web. France has the assets and talents for this. In a world where technological evolution precedes economic domination, it is essential to keep our jobs and our independence. But it is also a social and societal challenge: the pace of technological acceleration is already a major centrifugal power in our societies between those who master the codes of digital technology, AI, quantum, blockchain... and all those who are excluded. And they are many of them. We have to make sure that technology remains at the service of society and progress.
When you arrived at the Elysée in 2017 you said you wanted France to become a "start-up nation" : a country capable of ensuring the emergence of leaders in the technological sectors of the future. What has been your assessment after five years as President?
France had 3 Unicorns by the end of 2017. It now has 26. Investments in French start-ups have increased fivefold in five years and 2022 promises to be another record year. But to me the most important thing is the fantastic change of atmosphere that we have witnessed. Today, capital flows in hundreds of thousands of jobs are created throughout the country but above all our best talents are staying in France, projecting themselves and at the same time pushing our country into the future with optimism. It is crucial. Not only from an economic point of view but also because we need much more innovation to meet the major societal challenges of our time: the ecological transition, the ageing population, the food challenge, etc. All of this is the result of the work of entrepreneurs and their employees but also of a systematic support policy conducted by the government: on financing, on the attractiveness of talent, on the regulatory environment, on investment in key technologies... plus the general discourse of support for innovation which is essential, or what has been done to cover the territory with fiber and mobile. The technological sovereignty of France and Europe is ultimately being built step by step. But there is still a lot of work to do ahead of us.
If you are re-elected, what vision do you have for French start-ups and French Tech? What would be your priorities? Number of unicorns, level of investments?
We must go even further. The last 5 years have helped to get the game up and rolling again but it is still not enough. The global economy and our daily uses are still almost exclusively dominated by Anglo-Saxon or Chinese companies. This is why I have set the objective by 2030 of emerging 100 French unicorns and 10 European giants. We need our companies to be more numerous, more powerful and to develop in critical areas such as quantum computing, biotechnology and the agriculture and energy of tomorrow. To achieve this, we must intensify our efforts. It starts with talent. The Digital Era is an extremely profound transition. We must work hard on training to give our society and our economy the tools to master it. If the French people trust me, we will expand code learning and digital uses from the 5th grade, and we will train 400 to 500,000 additional developers and computer experts over the next five years. We must benefit from this effort to bring social mix and diversity to the core of the ecosystem.
Do you consider that France and Europe are doing enough in terms of investment in technologies? Do you regret that the new unicorns such as Ledger or Sorare were financed by large American funds?
In this case as well, things are moving forward, but we must go further. In the recent years, we focused on business growth. We must continue but also ensure that many more start-ups are created and funded each year. This is why we are going to work in two directions. First, we must encourage the financing of innovative companies in their early stages by making our tax system more attractive. To do that, we must be inspired by the successful systems of our neighbors such as the British SEIS. Then, we must continue to structure the French and European venture capital industry – both by launching a second “Tibi” initiative with institutional investors, but also by making sure to operationalize Scale-up commitments as quickly as possible Europe which should enable the emergence of powerful European investment funds. Having so much foreign investment in our ecosystem is an advantage in global competition and I am very much in favor of it as long as the headquarters of start-ups and technologies remain in France, but a powerful ecosystem also means a powerful European venture capital industry. Moreover, we will perpetuate tax measures favorable to innovation, such as the CIR, the CII and the JEI, which have proven their effectiveness.
France has many engineers, several leaders in sectors such as data, artificial intelligence, video games or blockchain. But they still weigh relatively little compared to the American and Chinese giants. Is there not a risk to miss again the new technological wave as we did with the Internet 20 years ago?
We are currently getting back into the global game of technology and if we continue to pursue the right policies, we can win it. For one simple reason: we have the best talents. Our duty is to create the environment that encourages them to stay in Europe. This is what is happening: the conjunction of implemented reforms, Covid and a search for a better balance in terms of quality of life are major assets for our continent. Proof of this is that in 2021 for the first time Europe has created more unicorns than China. I also want to mention the recent adoption of the Digital Markets Act under the French Presidency: I believe it is the most important economic regulation text since the beginning of the 20th century. We are reopening the game and allowing new players to emerge by fighting against monopolies. In short, there is still a long way to go but I am very optimistic if we make the appropriate efforts.
You talked about a "European metaverse". What do you mean by that?
Both the Web3 and the metaverse may represent a new step for the web we know. My desire is for Europe to be a central player in contrast to what has happened so far. I want to specifically ensure that European players master the technological building blocks associated with Web3 and the metaverse so as not to depend on American or Chinese giants. We already have a breeding ground of players, whether in the virtual and augmented reality field, in digital twins, in the mastery of blockchain technologies... For example, the idea would be to support alternative graphics engines, capture technologies, or to work on future challenges, such as the creation of immersive universes that reproduce the physical properties of our world. There are a lot of questions and we don't know all of them but I want us to nurture a strategic approach and especially an ecosystem on these topics.
Building a European metaverse also means producing, promoting and mastering our cultural and creative content. The metaverse has a huge potential in culture and leisure thanks to its applications in music, concerts, art exhibitions, etc. We cannot consider our cultural policy without this revolution. I want our main cultural institutions to develop an NFT policy, by promoting, disseminating and protecting the digital twins or variations of their physical collections, for example. Finally, France through its language, heritage, cities, villages and monuments must also exist in the metaverse. I wish we could think about what a dematerialized museum of French history might be in this universe: what a great project it would be to think about a digital historiography of our collective history.
Let's go back to Web3 and cryptos. Europe could be the leading continent on this issue but the European Parliament has just adopted very restrictive regulations. At the same time, some admittedly rare countries are turning bitcoin into their legal tender. Is there not the risk of once again missing out on a major revolution when studies show that the French and Europeans are increasingly predicted by these new currencies?
In this regard, I believe that clear principles are needed. First of all, technological mastery is a challenge for Europe with regard to these future technologies which go far beyond the question of financial innovation: we must be ready for it. As such, we already have leading players in France: Ledger or Sorare. We need to bring out more of them and attract the best to our territory.
Moreover, I see that there is a very strong appetence for these technologies and the services they offer - especially among the younger generations - whose potential for application is enormous. But I don't believe in a self-regulated financial sector. This would be neither sustainable nor democratic. It is up to the public authorities to define the right conditions to allow the sector to develop in confidence while encouraging innovation. To do this we need a pragmatic approach: what does the
technology bring, what are the real problems (and not fantasized), how do we respond to them? This was the same philosophy adopted in the Pact law which established the first balanced rules in this sector (taxation, accounting, regulatory framework for service providers, etc). We now have to ensure the uniformity of rules on the European territory to create a unified market. Given this context, I am in favor of making rapid progress on the MiCA regulation, based on the balanced approach promoted by the Council and inspired by the French framework. France will pay close attention that the text does not prevent innovation and remains as neutral as possible in terms of technology. What is happening should also lead us to move much faster on the subject of the digital euro.
The other cultural revolution from which the public authorities often seem to be far away concerns video games. You recently addressed this issue.
Although it would be wrong to say that I have been a very active video game player, I am part of a generation that has grown up with video games and measure what they represent in terms of culture especially for our youth. This is a French asset in today's world: we are one of the great video game nation recognized around the world for the richness of its art, the quality of its trainings and the dynamism of its industry. We are fortunate to have a powerful French video game industry (Ubisoft, Quantic Dream, Voodoo...). Nor do I forget how much the video game participates in the mastery of advanced technologies. This will again be true with Web3. Video games are an important component of French cultural soft cultural power and of our country's image around the world. But also from our ability to
understand the projections and representations of our society too. That is why I also want us to have a strategic approach to continue creating the right conditions to promote France as THE country for video games. We have adapted the video game tax credit : we want to make it permanent and continue to work on financing and trainings to locate and attract productions in our country. Finally, I'm not forgetting the esport, another field of French excellence with teams like Team Vitality or Karmine Corp. In this respect, we have a historic opportunity: the 2024 Olympic Games. It is up to us to take full advantage to establish a link between the two worlds’ Olympiads by hosting the world's greatest esporting events: CS:GO Majors, Worlds of League of Legends and The International of Dota 2. If the French trust me, we will work on it as soon as I am elected. This is also what France's influence is all about.
These digital revolutions can be exciting and can also be exclusionary. How do you respond to those who portray you as an apostle of the "start-up" nation and of a form of technological "solutionism"?
I claim the "start-up nation" term but a "start-up nation" anchored in the territories diverse and open to all talents. I want to reconcile start-ups and industry through France 2030. Innovation and risk-taking echo the deep history of our country. We owe what was then a form of "start-up nation" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries some of the greatest French technological and industrial successes in history.
This is true for trains, airplanes, chemicals, vaccines... French innovation, audacity and genius have made our greatness and our success. However, you are right we have to consider all those who today feel excluded from this movement. For this reason, I strongly emphasized the fight against the digital divide during my five-year term. Never has so much effort been made to deploy fiber or reduce white areas. Nearly 2,000 France Services houses have been opened and 4,000 digital advisors support our citizens on a daily basis in their mastery of digital tools. If I were to be elected, I will continue with these positions and double their number: it would be absurd to oppose the transformations but we have a duty to accompany and train all our citizens to master them.