French tech partially welcomes new government’s digital portfolio

French economy and finance minister Bruno Le Maire at the handover ceremony in Paris on May 21, 2022. [CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EPA]

The portfolio of France’s new “super economy ministry”, while welcomed by tech, does not include a successor to Secretary of State Cédric O, creating uncertainty over whether such an appointment will be made. EURACTIV France reports.

O served as Secretary of State for the digital economy in the governments of former prime ministers Édouard Philippe and Jean Castex from 2019 to 2022. He announced in early March that he was putting an end to his political career to return to the private sector.

Tech stakeholders say O proved to be a good contact point within the country’s digital ecosystem and they hope he will be replaced.

A controversial question

The question of whether to create a full-fledged ministry of digital affairs or appoint a “mere” secretary of state was a divisive one within the ecosystem and among presidential candidates.

However, some of them felt that it was time for the digital sector to have its own ministry and budget since the matter had become so important and had a certain cross-cutting character.

For others, it was a non-issue, and it even made sense that these issues should be addressed by the economy and finance ministry or the prime minister.

O who was in charge of the digital transition at the time, favoured the second option, as he did not see the point of creating a fully-fledged ministry beyond the symbolic value.

“I think the ecosystem overestimates the institutional matter,” said O a few weeks before the first round of the presidential election.

“If I had one wish, it would be to ensure that there is a great economy and technology ministry that has full powers over these issues and that has Bercy’s [the of economy and finance ministry] administrative power,” he added.

And it seems that his wish has been granted.

French candidates split on holder of digital portfolio in future government

As the French election will likely see a government reshuffle and restructuring of minister portfolios, EURACTIV France asked the main candidates how digital issues would fit into their governments if elected.

After many weeks of waiting and hoping, French digital companies received an answer on Friday (May 20) with the announcement of the new government.

Bruno Le Maire was reappointed minister with the new title: “Minister of Economy, Finance and Industrial & Digital Sovereignty,” illustrating the desire of the recently re-elected president, Emmanuel Macron, to emphasise French and European autonomy and independence in this area.

“Industrial & digital sovereignty thus has its minister of state, a most senior position: excellent news!” said Yann Lechelle, head of Scaleway, a French cloud provider, on Twitter.

“It’s a positive signal,” said Maya Noël, CEO of France Digitale, Europe’s leading startup organisation, bringing together French digital entrepreneurs and investors.

“It proves that digital and startups, in particular, are at the heart of the economy,” she told EURACTIV. As for the notion of sovereignty, Noël also sees it as a good thing, “as long as it is associated with a logic of growth and not turning inward.”

France Digitale was among the organisations that called for creating a fully-fledged ministry for the digital portfolio and not “as an end in itself”.

According to Noël, the aim is to have such issues well represented at the interministerial level, even though this did not prevent O from taking such matters to the highest level of government.

Holding out hope

France Digitale’s CEO said she expects someone will be appointed as secretary of state for digital in the coming weeks, particularly given Le Maire’s new, expanded portfolio. “We’re in a state of expectation,” she said.

All eyes are now on the legislative elections in June, as they typically result in a government reshuffle and could even have someone appointed to assist Le Maire on digital issues.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/Alice Taylor]

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