Culture is future » Innovation and digital


Contribution: "Digital, the new French-German axis of European development" by Clara-Doïna Schmelck

In a time where currents of mega-data are considered as new coveted currency, the founding couple of Europe aims to be the propeller behind the ECSC of the 21st generation. The Digital conference on October 27th at the Elysée Palace gather governors, decision makers and investors in innovation. This step towards European construction resulted in tangible results, only because it was on familiar grounds such as the economy while as web security remains unexplored.

Means to cooperate

The conference, presided by François Hollande, Angela Merkel and the EU president, Jean-Claude Juncker, wanted to raise awareness: digital is spreading all around society, and it’s up to Europe to lead the shift.

« Europe has many advantages that we can use to develop our won models and orientate its digital transition: a creative youth, audacious and qualified, innovations and internationally recognized innovators, common values, focused on the freedom of speech, the respect of diversity. It is time to free this potential for innovation. The digital ecosystems in Berlin, Paris, London, Barcelona, Prague, Tallinn or Copenhagen are just waiting for it to happen! », said Benoît Thieulin, president of the French Conseil national du numérique, and founder of the Europe du numérique. The exchanges that took place during the meetings on October 27th have indeed served as a basis for the report commissioned to the Conseil national du numérique (CNNum) and his counterpart the Beirat Junge Digitale Wirtschaft (BJDW). « act for innovation », the document traced the main axes of a ‘road map’ in five plans, starting from training to digital transformation of the economy and financing.

The implementation of step measures may accelerate the digital transformation of the EU, and in consequence guarantee a greater independence of the Union from the American giant.

In the lack of funding in Europe, an important number of startups sprouting from the Old Continent continue to reach out to the United States : 70 % of the funds were raised by non-European financial institutions, mainly American. To halt this drain of young sprouts, three public agencies — Bpifrance, KFW and the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, are looking into creating a new financing fund. 

In the meanwhile, Qwant, the Franco-German « Google » has positioned itself on personal data protection, by guaranteeing the anonymization of searches, will benefit from a loan of 25 million euros from the European Bank of Investment to deploy its products all around Europe. An increase of capital of a similar size may follow, depending on the execution of the business plan. At the end of the operation, the EBI will be a stockholder of the company. This type of investment could call for more in Europe.

For Gerhard Cromme, the president of Siemens, Maurice Lévy, CEO of Publicis, and Stéphane Richard, the CEO of Orange plan to launch Iris Next, a fund for French and German young entrepreneurs, endowed with 500 million euros. Bpifrance and the German public bank KFW took part in a venture firm Partech. They will jointly finance the fund tailored to the country’s startups. The European Investment Fund also plans to participate.

Remains to see if all the decision will allow European entrepreneurs to find local solution when it comes to their second round of financing, where they will gather tickets amounting to a few dozen million euros. 

Harmonization of standards and digital education

To vamp up a digital Europe, the two states will also rely on the legal method that will take the form of harmonized standards between the 28. A key issue to connect the machines. Which is why the Alliance for a future industry, a platform created by France that gathers the actors implicated in the digital changes, will launch joint working group with its German Industry 4.0 counterpart. The complementarity between Germant, for automation, and France, that has an edge when it comes to data analysis and interoperable platforms, might finally work. These future French-German norms are otherwise likely to become the basis of a European standard, on the condition that other EU countries back down to the French-German entente.

The report commissioned to the Conseil national du numérique (CNNum) and its counterpart Beirat Junge Digitale Wirtschaft (BJDW) recommends that France and Germany should « support the definition of a social and fiscal regime that is favorable and harmonized for innovative startups in Europe, in order to facilitate their development and limit barriers to their internationalization ». In the same vein, the text proposed to create a common status « Young innovative company », to allow development within a favorable and harmonized framework during a 7 year duration. Tuesday, Axelle Lemaire strongly supported this proposal.

Lastly, when it comes to education, German and France seemed to agree on the need to introduce digital in the initial training programs for citizens. The idea is to offer student on-hands teaching (programming, algorithmics, data analysis, robotics, web conception, 3D printing, etc.), that is complemented by learning theory (law, economics, …) to empower them with tools to fully be part of the digital society. Arte on its side announced Tuesday at the Elysée the launch of “EducARTE”, a teaching service targeting teachers and their students, as well as its collaboration with Adways, the start-up that develops a video enrichment tool for the French-German channel’s programs. 

Big data: unexplored territories

Meanwhile, the question of net neutrality and personal data security seemed to be considered a no-go-zone for discussion.

The Minister of State for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, announced the creation of a label targeting French and German cloud service companies. Baptized « Secure Cloud », this label consists of several quality and security standards. Nevertheless, the French-German couple considers that it’s Brussels’ responsibility to take up the question about regulating Big Data, notable on the issues of data access and identifying the priorities of data usage. This reaffirms their wish to create a « label that will guarantee the security and the integrity of data stocked in the cloud », but the common declaration by Sigmar Gabriel and Emmanuel Macron hasn’t set a precise calendar.

The calendar, on the other hand, will not wait. The European Parliament passed on the same evening as the French-German summit on digital, after a second motion, the recommendation on the Single European market for digital communications. The final regulation, which replaced the expression « net neutrality » with « open internet », creates an obligation in principle to equal treatment in all jurisdictions regardless of content, origin or destination, all the while responding to pitfalls in order to avoid the anger of internet providers. Clearly, it’s very vague.  

The same Tuesday evening, in relative indifference, the French High Chamber adopted the proposal for the law on international surveillance of telecommunications, which concerns French and residents in France. The law on international surveillance notably looks to empower the Prime minister to authorize the installation of black boxes that can filter and cross-reference communications with algorithms, which will be unknown to citizens. Above all, the project voted by the Senate specifies that it is of « impersonal use », meaning massive surveillance.

France and Germany’s desire to write together, on October 27th, 2015, a new page to Europe’s history, they took the risk of writing a history full of holes. 

About Clara-Doïna Schmelck

Journalist medias for Socialter and Intégrales.

Her blog :

On Twitter : @ClaraSchmelck