PARIS — France has been leading the charge in Europe on taxing technology giants, but it is also hoping to build its own behemoths — and has high expectations for cultivating its start-up environment.
“France is one of the most fastest developing and one of the most vibrant ecosystems as far as tech is concerned in Europe,” said Cédric O, France’s minister of state for digital affairs, speaking to the Anglo-American Press Association at the French Finance Ministry.
Noting that the country has carried out a number of measures to encourage start-ups to operate in the country, like offering fast-track visas for foreign entrepreneurs, he projected investments in the French tech realm will continue to grow to reach around 6 or 7 billion euros this year, from around 2.5 billion euros in 2017.
This compares with a figure of around 11 billion euros in the U.K., he added.
It is too early to tell if France might benefit from Brexit, but he said the government hopes to draw in foreign doctoral students who are not allowed to stay in the U.K.
The country recently implemented a measure to extend a tech visa that was limited to workers in French companies to those working in foreign companies, according to the junior minister.
“We want to build a worldwide ecosystem here,” he said.
“Our challenge is to be able to scale up and all we are doing is about scaling up our ecosystem,” added the official.
Following the country’s recent push, further measures will be incremental, however.
“The start-up ecosystem is self-feeding…the basic drivers have been designed over the past two years,” he said.
“The biggest players, they’re setting standards, and we have to be able to have our own GAFA, and I’m quite optimistic this will happen in the future,” said the junior minister, referring to tech giants Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.
“You have to go for the two issues, regulation and investment,” he added.
The minister said that the French government considers the GAFA companies hold too much sway on the country’s economy and democratic system, citing Google and Facebook’s roles as “gatekeepers,” particularly through advertising.
Asked about the prospect of the U.S. putting tariffs on French or European goods in retaliation for taxing American tech giants, the minister said Europe would fight back.
“Retaliatory measures and trade wars are not good for anyone, not good for the U.S., not good for Europe and not good for the companies concerned,” he said.
“If the U.S. decides to go for retaliatory measures, we already said — and Europe already said — that we would be reacting to it. Let’s hope we are not forced to go for those measures.”
Executives from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton last year indicated they are “sensitive to tariffs and trade barriers.”