Ministers outline France’s international digital strategy

Digital sector – Joint article by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and M. Mounir Mahjoubi, Minister of State for the Digital Sector, in the daily newspaper Les Echos

Paris, 18 December 2017

Our ambition for a digital France

We are living in the digital age, an age of global transformation and major strategic shifts. Whether it relates to our economy’s success amid worldwide competition or to peace and power at global level, digital technology is now a major challenge for our foreign policy and for public action as a whole.

The digital arena can give our democratic values a new boost, but we also face the risk of a digital world manipulated against those virtues of openness whose guarantor it was supposed to be. The questioning of net neutrality is a fresh example of this. France reiterates its commitment to this principle.

Race for innovation

To address these challenges and to map out a digital world made up of cooperation, openness and trust: those are the goals of France’s international strategy for the digital sector.

Our first challenge is to make France a centre of digital excellence, first of all by strengthening an ecosystem that fosters innovation and investment. La French Tech exists to support the development of start-ups in every sector. Boosting digital activity in our country also means ensuring our attractiveness: that is the purpose of La French Tech and the French Tech Visa, which enable foreign entrepreneurs and investors to develop their projects in France more easily.

In the coming half century, new technological breakthroughs will very probably have consequences similar to or even greater than those of the first digital revolution. We must be players in this new race for innovation. That is the goal of the brief the Prime Minister entrusted to Cédric Villani and of the artificial intelligence strategy that will be drawn up in the next few months.

The key lies in a joint, Europe-wide R&D effort, which will guarantee enhanced sovereignty for each of our member states. It may require, as the French President has suggested, the creation of a “European agency for disruptive innovation”.

Tailored regulation

This economic ambition also means fair rules on competition and taxation. We need Europe-wide regulation to limit economic distortions linked to the digital transition. So we are working on tax plans to ensure that digital activity does not escape tailored taxation by dint of its immaterial nature.

But the challenges of the digital world also trickle down into democratic issues – justifying the boost France is giving to promoting the Open Government Partnership – and security issues.

New forms of conflict are emerging in cyberspace, as borne out by the exponential rise in the number of cyber attacks worldwide. The targets are many and varied, as are the attackers – they may be state-controlled or comprise a veritable market of interference.

To ensure the conditions for stability in the digital arena, we need to establish collective cyber security by drawing on the balances defined under international law, particularly the Charter of the United Nations. Moreover, the sudden development of the digital world as a tool and space of confrontation gives the private sector unprecedented responsibilities in the preservation of international security. This is particularly the case when it comes to fighting terrorist organizations so that online terrorist content is removed and prevented from reappearing and being spread.

So states must together embark, along with the private sector and the world of research, on new work to define types of regulation tailored to the development of the digital world. This multilateral, realistic and pragmatic innovation is the approach France wishes to promote./.

Digital sector – Presentation of France’s international strategy for the digital sector at thecamp – Press briefing by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs

Aix-en-Provence, 15 December 2017

THE MINISTER – The digital challenge is considerable in our country, and for Europe too, in terms of economic development, the aspect of free competition and innovation, and respect for the right and ability of everyone to ensure their personal data are genuinely regulated. And at the same time, the digital challenge is also a security challenge in the face of the various offensives that may be conducted via the Internet, and also in the face of the terrorist threat.

It was important for France to ensure it has full coordination, which means not only cooperation but also regulation, control, responsibility, and legal, economic and social standards; that’s what I proposed earlier, with the whole government, on these issues.

We also need economic diplomacy and digital diplomacy that enable us to get these principles validated and ensure we can take this same line at European level.

Q. – You’ve talked about a “European model”?

THE MINISTER – A European model is a model that ensures both freedom and security. Freedom means the ability to have everyone on the networks, and the economic capability this represents. And also having control of security. In other words, we must regulate and have standards, in order to avoid any abuses. It also means ensuring that Internet access remains free and that the web is neutral, so that everyone can show innovation, can gain access to it, and Europe must show this determination.

Q. – What are you going to take away from your visit to thecamp?

THE MINISTER – I’m pretty impressed to see how thecamp opens up a whole series of initiatives – whether it’s to do with young people developing projects which are sometimes a bit crazy, already mature start-ups bringing their know-how here, or thought being given over the long term to what the future may hold tomorrow. I’ve found tremendous creativity here, opening up action which is often too self-focused.

Q. – You’ve talked about sovereignty, deterrence and cyber security; you’ve drawn parallels with the nuclear challenge after the Second World War. Do you sense that France has fallen behind a bit compared to other powers?

THE MINISTER – No, I think we’re on track. But we’ve got to take [these measures] now and probably change the system to anticipate the risk posed by digital globalization and allow France in the technical field – which is fairly advanced – to play its full role in the challenge economically.

Q. – Is digital technology more a danger or an opportunity?

THE MINISTER – If it’s regulated, it’s an opportunity for freedom; otherwise, it’s a threat./.

Published on 13/02/2018

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