An exceptional interview. A few days before the second round of the presidential election, Emmanuel Macron agreed to answer our questions about digital, cryptos and technologies, topics that have not been discussed much during the campaign, but oh so essential. It is with The Big Whale 🐳 that the candidate decided to address these topics. Both to take stock of his action and to give his vision of what would be his second term. Emmanuel Macron also took the opportunity to make some big announcements about the startup ecosystem or the European framework for crypto-assets.
THE BIG WHALE: There is a lot of talk about Web3. What does this mean to you? Is it an opportunity?
EMMANUEL MACRON: A requirement and an opportunity not to be missed. That France and Europe should be leaders of the future generations of the web. France has the assets and talent to do this. In a world where technological breakthroughs precede economic domination, it is essential to preserve our jobs and our independence. But it is also a social and societal challenge: the acceleration of the technological pace is already a major centrifugal force in our societies, between those who master the codes of digital technology, AI, quantum, blockchain... and the many who are excluded. We must ensure that technology remains at the service of society and progress.
When you arrived at the Elysée Palace in 2017, you said you wanted to make France a "start-up nation," a country capable of bringing out champions in the technological sectors of the future. After five years in office, how would you assess this?
At the end of 2017, France had 3 unicorns. Today, it has 26. Investments in French startups have increased fivefold in five years, and 2022 still promises to be a record year. But what I remember most of all is the tremendous change in atmosphere that we have witnessed. Today, capital is flowing in, hundreds of thousands of jobs are being created all over the country, but above all our best talents are staying in France, projecting themselves and our country into the future with optimism. This is vital. 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 aging population, the food challenge, etc. All this is the fruit of the work of entrepreneurs and their employees, but also of a systematic support policy carried out by the government: on financing, on the attractiveness of talent, on the regulatory environment, on investment in key technologies... without forgetting the general support for innovation, which is essential, or what has been done for the coverage of the territory in fiber and mobile. In the end, what is being built stone by stone is the technological sovereignty of France and Europe. But there is still a lot of work to do.
If you are re-elected, what is your vision for French start-ups and French Tech? What would be your priorities? Number of unicorns, level of investments?
We need to go even further. The last 5 years have allowed us to reopen the game, but this is still not enough. The global economy and our daily lives are still almost exclusively dominated by Anglo-Saxon and Chinese companies. That's why I've set the goal of creating 100 French unicorns and 10 European giants by 2030. We need our companies to be more numerous and more powerful, and to develop in critical areas such as quantum computing, biotechnology, and the agriculture and energy of tomorrow. To do this, we need to massify our effort. This starts with talent. Digital technology is an extremely profound transition. To give our society and our economy the tools to master it, we must make a major effort on training. If the French people trust me, we will generalize the learning of code and digital uses from the 5th grade, and we will train 400 to 500,000 additional developers and computer experts over the five-year period. We must take advantage of this effort to put social diversity at the heart of the ecosystem.
Do you think that France and Europe are doing enough in terms of investment in technology? Do you regret that the new unicorns, Ledger or Sorare, were financed by large American funds?
Here too, progress is being made, but we need to go further. In recent years, we have focused on business growth. We need to continue that, but we also need to ensure that many more start-ups are created - and funded - each year. That's why we're going to work in two directions. First, we will encourage the financing of innovative companies in their early stages by making our tax system more attractive, drawing inspiration from the successful schemes of our neighbors, such as the British EIS/SEIS. Secondly, we must continue to structure the French and European venture capital industry - both by launching a second "Tibi" initiative with institutional investors, and by ensuring that the commitments made in Scale-up Europe are implemented as soon as possible, so that powerful European investment funds can emerge. Having so much foreign investment in our ecosystem is an asset in international 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. In addition, we will perpetuate tax measures that are favorable to innovation, such as the CIR, the CII and the JEI, which have proven their effectiveness.
France has many engineers and champions in sectors such as data, artificial intelligence, video games and blockchain. But they still carry little weight compared to the American and Chinese giants. Aren't we running the risk of once again missing out on the new technological wave, just as we missed out on the Internet 20 years ago?
We are getting back into the global technology game and if we continue to pursue the right policies, we can win it. For one simple reason: we have the best talent. Our duty is to create the environment that encourages them to stay in Europe. This is what is happening: the combination of reforms, covid and a better balance in quality of life are major assets for our continent. The proof is that in 2021, for the first time, Europe has created more unicorns than China. I would also like 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. By fighting against monopolies, we are reopening the game and allowing new players to emerge. In short, there is still a long way to go, but if we can make the necessary efforts, I am very optimistic.
You have spoken of a "European metaverse". What do you mean by this?
Web3 and the metaverse can represent a new stage of the web as we know it. I want Europe to be a central player, unlike what has happened so far. In concrete terms, I want to ensure that European players master the technological bricks associated with Web3 and metavers so that they are not dependent on American or Chinese giants. We already have a very fertile ground of players, whether in the field of virtual and augmented reality, digital twins, mastery of blockchain technologies ... The idea would be, for example, to support alternative graphics engines, capture technologies, or to work on future challenges, such as the creation of immersive worlds that reproduce the physical properties of our world. The questions are numerous, we don't know them all, but I want us to nurture a strategic approach and above all an ecosystem on these subjects. Building a European metaverse also means producing, promoting and controlling our cultural and creative content. The metaverse has immense potential in culture and leisure thanks to its applications in music, concerts, art exhibitions, etc. We cannot think our cultural policy outside this revolution. I hope that our main cultural establishments will develop a policy in the field of NFT, for example through the promotion, dissemination and protection of twins or variations of their physical collections. Finally, France, through its language, its heritage, its cities and villages, its monuments, must also exist in the metaverse. I hope that we can reflect on what a dematerialized museum of French history would be in this universe: what a wonderful 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 the subject, but the European deputies have just adopted very restrictive regulations. At the same time, some countries, admittedly rare, are making bitcoin their legal tender. Isn't there a risk of once again missing out on a major revolution, while studies show that the French and Europeans are increasingly interested in these new currencies?
I believe that we need to base ourselves on clear principles in this area. First, there is a key issue of technological mastery for Europe in these technologies of the future, which go far beyond the question of financial innovation: we must be there. In this respect, we already have leading players in France, such as Ledger and Sorare. We must help others emerge and attract the best to our country. I also note that there is a very strong appetite, particularly among the younger generation, for these technologies and the services they offer, which have enormous application potential. But I do not believe in a self-regulated financial sector. That would be neither sustainable nor democratic. It is up to the public authorities to set up the right frameworks to allow the sector to develop with confidence, while encouraging innovation. To do this, we need a pragmatic approach: what does technology bring, what are the real (and not fantasized) problems, how do we respond to them? This was the philosophy adopted in the Pacte law, which set the first balanced rules in this sector (taxation, accounting, regulatory framework for service providers, etc). We must now ensure uniformity of rules across Europe to create a unified market. In 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 be very careful to ensure that the text does not prevent innovation and remains as technologically neutral as possible. What is happening should also lead us to move much faster on the subject of the digital euro.
The other cultural revolution that the public authorities often seem to be far from is that of video games. You recently made a point of addressing the subject.
Even if it would be a lie to say that I was a very active gamer, I belong to a generation that grew up with video games - and that measures what they represent in terms of culture, especially for our youth. It is a French asset in today's world: we are one of the great video game nations, recognized throughout the world for the richness of its works, the quality of its training and the dynamism of its industry. We are fortunate to have a powerful French video game industry (Ubisoft, Quantic Dream, Voodoo,...). I have not forgotten, either, the extent to which video games are involved in the issue of mastering advanced technologies. This will be true once again with Web3. Above all, video games are an important component of French cultural soft power, of our country's image around the world. It is also an important component of our ability to understand the projections and representations of our society. That's why I want us to take a strategic approach to continue to create the conditions that will make France the country of video games: we have adapted the video game tax credit, we want to make it permanent, and we want to continue to work on financing and training to localize and attract productions to our country. Finally, I'm not forgetting esports, another area of French excellence, with teams like Team Vitality and Karmine Corp. In this respect, we have a historic opportunity: the 2024 Olympic Games. It's up to us to take advantage of this opportunity to link the Olympics of both worlds by hosting the world's biggest sporting events that year: a CS:GO major, the League of Legends Worlds 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 the influence of France.
These digital revolutions can be exciting, but they can also be excluding. How do you respond to those who caricature you as an apostle of the "start-up nation" and a form of technological "solutionism"?
I'd like to call it a "start-up nation", but a start-up nation that is rooted in the regions, diverse and open to all talents. Through France 2030, I want to reconcile start-ups and industry. Innovation and risk-taking echo the deep history of our country. We owe some of the greatest technological and industrial successes in French history to what was then a form of "start-up nation" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is true of the train, the airplane, chemistry, vaccines... It is French innovation, audacity and genius that have made us great and successful. But, you are right, we have a duty to take into account all those who feel excluded from this movement today. This is why, during my five-year term, I have placed so much emphasis on the fight against the digital divide. Never before have so many efforts been made to deploy fiber or to reduce the number of white zones. Nearly 2,000 France Services centers have been opened, and 4,000 digital advisors are supporting our citizens in their daily mastery of digital tools. If I am elected, I will perpetuate these positions and I will double their number: it would be absurd to oppose transformations, but we have the duty to accompany and train all our citizens to master them.