French voters will return to the ballot box this Sunday to choose a new president in a second round of voting that will pit far-right Marine Le Pen against centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Polls have shown Macron with a pretty steady 60 percent lead over Le Pen since the first round of voting made them the two finalists. While the campaign has been heated, and will likely remain so this week, Macron seems like a good bet to win.
This means that Silicon Valley is likely to have a big fan in the next president of France.
Macron is a former investment banker who served for about three years as Economics Minister under the current government. Before taking that gig, he took a monthlong holiday in California, much of it in Silicon Valley, where he met with local business and government leaders to discuss innovation.
From the begining of his term as Economic Minister in 2014, he made support for entrepreneurship a clear centerpiece of his agenda. The first time I saw him was at Le Web in 2014.
He had just replaced the previous Economics Minister, a man who had caused a stir when he blocked the acquisition of France’s Dailymotion by Yahoo. The feeling previously had been that protectionism was the best way to create jobs in France. But speaking at Le Web, Macron made it clear that he would have decided differently, and that allowing exits was critical to entrepreneurs and investors.
He also spent a fair bit of time discussing the need to embrace disruption, to embrace change and the future, rather than setting up barriers to resist it.
“To be clear about the French momentum, we are accelerating,” he said on stage at the Le Web conference in December 2014. “They key question for us is how to accelerate, and how to help create new businesses. … My job is to be sure that in the coming years we create thousands of new businesses to replace the old ones. … My job is to protect people and allow them to be innovative and take risks.”
Macron became a big supporter of La French Tech, the program previously set in place to encourage and support startups and entrepreneurs in France. In 2015 and 2016, he accompanied delegations of French startups to the Consumer Electronics Show to promote their prospects, and to demonstrate the change in attitude he argued was happening across France.
Following the 2016 CES, he travelled to San Francisco to meet French entrepreneurs there, and then stopped for meetings at Apple and Google.
“There is a cultural revolution in progress, that of the entrepreneurial force in France that the country needs,” he told French entrepreneurs in San Francisco. He said he wanted to change the culture in France, where there is a great fear of failing, but also a suspicion of people who want to be too successful: “That leaves little room to maneuver.”
Indeed, Macron has built his campaign like a startup. He hired a political technology firm last year to help him research and interview thousands of French citizens to learn about their hopes and fears. Using his website, mobile apps, big data, and data visualization tools, he created En Marche!, an independent political movement that offered a new centrist philosophy.
Macron embraced trade, disruption, the European Union, immigration, and the need to support entrepreneurs with new programs. He has emerged as the clear favorite of France’s startup set. That platform also saw him finish first among 11 candidates in the first round of voting last month.
With Macron in charge, Silicon Valley can expect a sympathetic ear, but not necessarily one that will accede to its every wish. In the past, for instance, Macron has supported Uber’s right to operate in France. But he has also been insistent that companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Google pay their fair share of taxes.
That said, under Macron Silicon Valley can likely expect a warmer welcome than it has ever experienced in France. The question for France’s economy is whether that will encourage more U.S. tech firms and investors to plant a flag in Paris and give the country’s start ecosystem another shot of adrenaline.