PARIS — Emmanuel Macron has a message for the bosses of the worlds biggest tech companies: If you want to keep doing business in Europe, start thinking harder about your contribution to society at all levels.
“Thank you for being here,” the French president said today as he greeted the CEOs of more than a dozen digital giants, including Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg, in Paris for a summit on digital affairs. “But as you know in this world, there is no free lunch.”
“I think it is very important now … to be sure that we improve the social situations, inequalities, climate change and that we address together these common issues,” he went on. “It is not possible to have free riding on one side, even when you make a good business.”
In his greeting on the lawn of the Elysée presidential palace, Macron did not specify what he expected from the tech CEOs.
But France has been at the forefront of a European drive to make digital firms pay more tax, notably by imposing a levy on their turnover in the countries where the revenue is generated.
More broadly Macrons government is spearheading a European push for tougher regulation of the tech sector.
A draft law against fake news on social media, put forward by members of the presidents La Republique En Marche party, is currently being debated in parliament. And senior government officials, including Culture Minister Françoise Nyssen, are calling for the European Union to revisit the e-Commerce directive — a landmark piece of legislation from 2000 which underpins the legal situation of most digital platforms in the EU.
Macron is likely to press tech CEOs on such issues during sitdowns later Wednesday at the Elysées “Tech for Good” summit, and further talks at the Viva Technology digital trade fair in Paris.
The French government is still pushing for a European turnover tax on digital companies, according to senior French official who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity — despite the fact that other states, namely Britain and Germany, have turned icy on the idea amid fears that it could worsen a trade standoff with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Even so, Macron is likely to avoid turning the screws on his guests too tightly while they are in Paris, two days before Europe starts enforcing tough new privacy standards under the General Data Protection Regulation.
He campaigned on promises to turn France into a “startup nation,” and will be keen to press his advantage in terms of popularity with the tech sector against other European powers, namely Britain and, to a lesser extent, Germany.
In that regard the contrast between Paris, London and Berlin is striking: Zuckerberg, in many ways a figurehead for Silicon Valley, skipped Berlin and London during his apology tour of Europe in favor of Paris, to the frustration of officials in the British capital.