Macrons EU tech agenda version 2.0

Emmanuel Macron is back on the offensive trying to shape Europes approach to all things digital. Only this time, hes poised to win.

After failing to convince the rest of the EU to adopt a digital tax, the French president is taking a more strategic approach to policy goals ranging from a reform of competition rules to cracking down on online harms.

Two years before he faces a reelection contest at home, Macrons allies argue that conditions in Brussels now look more favorable than ever.

Frenchman Thierry Breton is overseeing a broad swathe of digital policymaking at the Commission. Britain has left the European Union. And Germany, which was lukewarm on digital tax, is aligned with France on the need for a more assertive approach to digital and industrial policymaking.

“Frances position is that we should not let Americans have the FAANG, Chinese have the BATX and leave Europe with the GDPR,” junior digital minister Cédric O told POLITICO on the Thalys train after meetings with top Commission officials Margrethe Vestager, Věra Jourová, Didier Reynders and Breton in Brussels. “It would be a big problem for sovereignty, jobs and the European social model.”

One of Macrons top concerns is funneling more and more money into Europes tech ecosystem.

But while Macron spies an opportunity, he still has to overcome plenty of opposition. Even with Britain out of the way, northern free-trading countries are likely to resist throwing away the blocs competition rulebook to foster European industrial giants. And Margrethe Vestager, the EUs competition czar, has been less than enthusiastic about changing the way Europe deals with antitrust.

Macrons administration is also wary of repeating past mistakes. The order of the day for Paris is achievable goals, with plenty of support from key allies. A case in point: the letter that France, Germany, Poland and Italy sent to Vestager this week, urging to move faster in overhauling competition rules.

“Our thinking is that regulation is essential to defend our values ​​but also to enforce rules for fair competition and innovation in Europe,” said O. “When Breton or Vestager talk about European economic policy, they are fairly aligned and also combine both a regulation side and both an investment side, which includes developing the capacity of Europe to create local champions.”

Systemic platforms

One of Macrons top concerns is funneling more and more money into Europes tech ecosystem.

After weeks of strikes over a pension reform, the French president knows that a pan-European approach is needed to foster investment — a view the former banker shares with Breton, who stepped down as chief executive of tech company Atos to become a Commission official.

Emmanuel Macron knows that a pan-European approach is needed to foster investment| Pool photo by Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP via Getty Images

“We have had discussions [with Thierry Breton] on investments in critical technologies such as quantum and cloud computing, artificial intelligence and we feel a European will to move forward,” said O.

Going hand in hand with more investment is a desire to allow big European tech companies to develop, if necessary via mergers that could be blocked under the Commissions current rules. Paris also wants to protect home-grown startups from being gobbled up by foreign governments and tech companies.

In France, a center-right Senator has put forward a legislative proposal to regulate so-called “systemic platforms,” which would allow the countrys competition watchdog to establish a list of companies that would have to notify authorities about every planned acquisition, even if the deal falls below current reporting thresholds. O said the government shared the bills objectives, but would rather see action taken at the European level.

The bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate, chimes with ongoing work at the European Commission. According to a draft communication seen by POLITICO, the blocs executive arm is already planning to update its competition rules for the digital age as part of a “Digital Service Act” due to be unveiled before year-end.

France and several other EU countries want that process to advance as quickly as possible, as their letter to Vestager shows.

Another area where Macron hopes to influence the EU is on policing content, where France has moved faster than most other European countries.

At the same time, European Parliament is discussing how to define “systemic platforms” that could be subjected to greater regulatory scrutiny in its annual report on competition policy. Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, a Renew Europe MEP from Normandy, is in charge of this years report and also has expressed her wish to pack a bigger antitrust punch in Europe.

“Its a priority to find a common regulatory framework at the EU level because thats the critical scale for us,” added O.

And while Macron is far from having all European countries on his side when it comes to competition changes, Paris believes it can already count on Germany and the Netherlands, according to a finance ministry adviser who asked not to be named to discuss confidential negotiations frankly.

But that doesnt mean the battle is won. Margrethe Vestager, as the letter unveiled earlier this week suggests, is advancing cautiously on any reform of the competition rules. And back home, courts may get in the way of any substantial overhaul — in particular the Conseil dEtat, France top administrative court, has voiced concerns.

Policing content

Another area where Macron hopes to influence the EU is on policing content, where France has moved faster than most other European countries with the exception of Germany — albeit with mixed results.

But Paris knows it needs to tread carefully.

Back home, a controversial law on hate speech has been snared in months of tense debates in the Senate and National Assembly. And the Commission is no fan either: in November, it sent a letter warning Paris that the bill wasnt fully compatible with EU law and asking for it to be postponed.

While France is an ardent tech regulator, its playing wait-and-see on facial recognition and artificial intelligence.

When O met with rule-of-law Commissioner Věra Jourová this week, she reminded him of the Commissions view. France and Brussels “should work toRead More – Source