France’s Ministry of Economy and Finance has kicked off a research project focused on digital trends in policy areas including e-payments and data sovereignty.
The ministry announced that it has formed working groups of business representatives to examine five themes for its ‘digital mission of large corporations’ (la mission numérique des grands groupes).
The topics are: protection of sovereignty in the e-payments market; supporting the emergence of an ecosystem around data sovereignty at the European level; supporting the transformation of skills and training; simplifying and strengthening collaboration between start-ups and large corporations; and developing a common strategy on Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The ‘mission’ is the latest development in what has already been a busy year for French state authorities in respect of activity related to financial technology.
France’s competition authority, Autorité de la concurrence, launched a consultation on fintech in May, focusing on the role of ‘large digital platforms’ in payment services. The Paris-headquartered authority’s president, Isabelle de Silva, has previously highlighted her concern about US-headquartered tech companies’ moves into online payments in the country.
Similarly, the Ministry of Economy published a 100-page report seven months ago that looked at the prominence of US companies in the European Union’s payments arena, and whether those companies should be required to keep the data on European soil.
Just last week US-headquartered company Facebook agreed to pay the French government €106m (£95.7m) in back taxes to settle a dispute over revenues earned in the country. Other US tech giants including Google have previously reached similar agreements with the French tax authorities. The OECD, headquartered in Paris, is currently developing a proposed international agreement to address the tax issues thrown up by the digital economy.
GPAI and Gaia-X up the ante
In respect of AI, France has sought to forge an international leadership role. The country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, presented his vision and strategy for French AI in 2018 while the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), which was unveiled this June, has its secretariat hosted by the OECD, as well as a ‘centre for excellence’ in the French capital.
Further significant technology-based developments involving the French state include ‘Gaia-X’, a German-French initiative aiming to promote ‘European’ Cloud data storage to rival those of non-European companies. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased policymakers’ focus on the importance of technology.
Reacting to the ministry’s initiative, Morgane Basque, who specialises in information technology and fintech at international law firm Bird & Bird in Paris, told Global Government Fintech that the pandemic was likely to further accelerate the government’s interest in digitalisation but that data sovereignty at EU level and French sovereignty in the e-payments market were very likely to be the two hottest topics for the ‘mission’.
“The Gaia-X project is a further new element in the fierce ‘data sovereignty’ debate and I think it will certainly raise some competition and tax issues. I imagine the ministry’s initiative will discuss this also,” said Basque.
The mission’s steering committee will gather for the first time this autumn. A progress update is scheduled for March 2021 with the final report due by the end of 2021.