The Big Whale : You arrived at Bercy 100 days ago. What are your first impressions? How is the "start-up nation" doing?
Jean-Noël Barrot: What I see is that in just a few years, under the impetus of the President of the Republic and my predecessors, France has become a great nation for digital technology and start-ups. One of the best symbols of this is that we have succeeded in creating many unicorns (companies worth more than one billion euros, editor's note).
In 2017 there were only 3 and today there are 27. And more are on the way. Beyond the number of unicorns, French startups have never raised so much. In October, fundraising has already exceeded the level of 2021, which was already a record! This is no accident, but the result of a very ambitious policy from an industrial and financial point of view.
And this policy does not only affect Paris, the whole country benefits from it. Ledger is a very good example: they have achieved something quite extraordinary with their factory in Vierzon, which contributes to the dynamism of a region that really needed it. Every day, we see that Tech can revitalize territories and many other industrial start-ups are coming. We must therefore continue along this path and take the right turns.
French Tech is doing well. But isn't the economic context, with fears of recession, a threat?
Many start-ups remain fragile. We are vigilant. This summer, we interviewed all the companies in the Next40 and FT120 to find out their financial situation, and the feedback was quite reassuring. Many of them raised funds before the macro-economic context showed signs of slowing down, but we will monitor the situation carefully.
Unlike your predecessors, you are a Minister Delegate, not a Secretary of State? Is this a form of promotion for digital?
Subscribe for free to read more.
This clearly demonstrates the government's commitment to this issue. To maintain its position as an innovative technological power, France must remain strong in three areas: first, innovation. We must support the development of start-ups and tech players in all areas (5G, quantum, deeptech, artificial intelligence and of course crypto and Web3). But also, to encourage more broadly, innovation in the field of health or decarbonization where digital can be a real lever for transformation. And to continue innovating, we need to develop talent. We want to train 400,000 digital professionals over the five-year period, which is an essential lever.
The second thing is obviously regulation and protection. There is a very strong demand from our fellow citizens. We have already made progress with the DMA (Digital Markets Act) and DSA (Digital Services Act), which will impose sound and fair rules in the digital space. Other important texts are still being negotiated at European level. And finally, we must make digital technology accessible to all, and in particular to the French who are the furthest away from it, while taking care to control the environmental impact of digital technology.
Since your arrival at Bercy, you have already spoken several times about cryptos and Web3. Why did you do so?
It's a major challenge because the web is going to undergo a third metamorphosis and Europe has the opportunity to become a leader, something it did not manage to do with Web2 (on the mobile and social part). This is a challenge both for capturing the value that will be created tomorrow by the Web3 and its applications, and also for traditional players, particularly in sectors such as culture, video games and luxury goods, where we have world leadership. It's also a question of sovereignty, because Web3 provides new technological building blocks that will be decisive in the construction of tomorrow's digital world.
You are in contact with players like Binance, Cryptocom or more recently the boss of Elrond. Is this a signal?
Our ambition is clear: we want to master the technological bricks of the Web3 so as not to be dependent on foreign powers because technological domination precedes economic and cultural domination.
We are convinced that in this revolution, we have a head start to make France a global hub. There are uses for crypto-assets in which we want to have a strong presence, notably DeFi (decentralized finance) and NFT (non-fungible tokens). We have already shown, over the last 5 years, that we can be a forerunner with the PSAN, which provides a flexible framework for platforms while protecting consumers. This framework has inspired the European regulation that will come into force in 2024. And we have the satisfaction of seeing global giants setting up shop in France.
For the moment they are only registrations and not approvals...
One thing at a time. Companies will move from registration to accreditation in the coming months if they wish. The fact that there are already 50 registrations is a strong signal. From now on, it is the PSAN accreditation that must be prepared in view of the entry into force of MiCA.
What assessment can be made of the PSAN? Personalities such as the European deputy Aurore Lalucq or the president of the Rousseau Institute Nicolas Dufrêne criticize it for being a simple registration which does not frame much...
Let's not confuse registration with accreditation. What I can tell you is that when we negotiated this statute in Parliament, there was a lot of discussion with industry players, regulators and supervisors.
That being said, when we talk about subjects like cryptos, which are totally new, we must be careful not to prevent innovation. Obviously, we need to protect and supervise, but also allow innovation. This is why MiCA will be deployed in a progressive and adaptable way.
Do you think that the taxation of cryptos should be improved? It's still complicated to declare your income...
Yes, and as Bruno Le Maire announced, we will conduct a general review in 2023 to determine whether new adjustments to tax legislation are necessary.
The MiCA regulation has just been adopted by the European Parliament. Many players are worried about the consequences of this regulation, which could favor the biggest players, and therefore the Americans. Do you understand these fears?
This is an intrinsic difficulty of regulation. We have seen this with the RGPD, which has sometimes discouraged certain emerging players. We are betting that regulation will enable the creation of a global market on the scale of the European Union. The goal is that all companies, both existing and new, can develop within a clear framework. The same applies to the DMA, which reinstates competition rules in the digital space to allow European players to develop in the cloud, for example.
In the field of crypto-assets, it's the same thing. If we want a unified economic space, we need a harmonized legal framework. This is a huge opportunity for European players.
But you know that it is the biggest players that are the best in the big markets...
We want markets to remain "contestable", as they say in economics. Our goal is neither to favor tech giants like Google and Meta, nor to dismantle them. We want all digital markets to have healthy and fair competition.
Our ambition is to regulate digital spaces, but in an intelligent way. There is something very paradoxical about saying that Europe is not a single market, that there are obstacles, and when we create this market, we say that it will serve American or Chinese interests...
France has some global champions in Web3. Ledger is the world leader in digital asset custody, Sorare in NFT games and Kaiko in crypto data analysis. How do you explain such success? And how do you accelerate the movement?
Yes, we already have world leaders in these areas. So how do you explain that? There are several things. First of all, the French entrepreneurial genius. And in France, and more broadly in Europe, there is also know-how that allows us to be at the forefront of innovation. France has real expertise in cryptography, smart cards... It's not surprising that Ledger and Sorare are French. France is a land of entrepreneurs and will remain so.
You are talking about Sorare. You know that the company is in the sights of the authorities, especially on the nature of their activity which could be considered as gambling. What is your position?
NFTs, as cryptos were a few years ago, are a new object that raises legitimate questions. But we should not be on the side of fear, but on the side of ambition.
NFT is a real revolution and will impact many sectors, such as video games, in France and around the world. When it comes to certain uses such as Sorare, we need to be agile. This is fundamental if we don't want to restrict innovation. We must therefore find ways for innovation to develop while protecting users against certain risks, notably addiction and money laundering.
We have succeeded in doing this for cryptos and this is what we are going to do, by the end of the year, for NFTs. That's why, with Bruno Le Maire and Gabriel Attal, we have just asked the General Inspectorate of Finance to carry out a global mission on NFTs. It will draw up an overview of uses and may propose changes in regulations to enable the development of players in the sector.
Will you clarify the status of NFTs?
Yes, we are going to work so that the players in the sector can develop.
You have seen that EDF, through its subsidiary Exaion, is a validator of the Ethereum protocol. What do you think of this? Is it a good thing?
I believe that more generally, it is important for France and Europe to be present on infrastructures like Ethereum. We must be contributors so that we don't let nodes and blockchains develop far from our area of influence. Blockchains are the infrastructure of tomorrow's Internet. It is our duty to be present. So I think EDF's investment is welcome.
What about Bitcoin? Should EDF and the French government take a stand?
It is not my place to decide this question. A number of protocols are still very energy intensive. Ethereum has made a considerable step with The Merge by reducing its consumption by more than 99%. I believe that there will only be sustainability for cryptos and the Web3 if environmental issues are also taken into account.
Despite the Loi Pacte and the government's rhetoric, many crypto companies are still struggling to find banks. What can be done to improve things?
There is a lot of convincing to be done as the ecosystem matures. I was pleased to see that banks are getting involved. This is the case of Société Générale with its subsidiary dedicated to cryptos, Forge, and I hope that others will follow suit and support the crypto ecosystem.