France targets high-tech future

Francois Hollande said the industrial policy was neither German nor Anglo-Saxon - "it is French and pragmatic". Photo / AP
Francois Hollande said the industrial policy was neither German nor Anglo-Saxon - "it is French and pragmatic". Photo / AP

President Francois Hollande denied he was returning France to the age of state interventionism as he launched 34 projects - from futuristic fast trains to electric-powered satellites - aimed at sealing the country's "industrial renaissance".

Unveiling the state-subsidised "industrial battle plans" last Friday, the President insisted that cutting-edge research into "energy transition", health and food, and new technologies would help return France to its glorious industrial past in a globalised world.

Projects include plans to develop a car that can run 100km on two litres of fuel, electric aeroplanes, driverless cars, nanotechnology, and "intelligent" fabrics, such as incubators made of a material that "cures" jaundice without medical intervention.

With unemployment stuck above 10 per cent and the Government forced last week to cut its 2014 growth forecast, Hollande sounded an optimistic note as he struggles to raise his approval ratings above 30 per cent.

In an introductory film broadcast at the Elysee Palace, viewers learned that France had "given the world" the steam train, the car, the motorised scooter, cinema, modern medicine and radioactivity.

After pictures of Renault, Peugeot and Concorde, the film quoted Charles de Gaulle: "We must obtain the rung of a great industrial state or resign ourselves to decline."

The film ended with the words: "France is back on its feet and is reinventing itself."

The French Government expects the futuristic projects to create 475,000 jobs and 45 billion ($74 billion) in revenues in the next 10 years, making up for some of the 750,000 jobs lost by French industry during the past decade.

Current statistics remain grim, with 49,600 industrial jobs lost in the year to August, according to the national statistics office, Insee.

Hollande qualified his message. "We respect the market," he said. "Let's not get nostalgic. This is not about reverting to the grand [state-administered] plans of the 60s and 70s. The state's role is not to take the place of private initiatives, but its job is to define a framework, to accompany, to stimulate."

He said the industrial policy was neither German nor Anglo-Saxon - "it is French and pragmatic".

His aides insist each euro of taxpayers' money will be matched by 10 from the private sector, which has initiated and will run 80 per cent of the projects, and that the technologies developed are already relatively mature.

Arnaud Montebourg, France's Industrial Recovery Minister, conceded that some projects might bite thedust.

But he added: "If we score 20 to 25 goals in 10 years, we'll know that France is on its feet again."

Emmanuel Macron, an Elysee adviser, said: "The state is now assuming its role after 20 years of being ashamed to do so."

But critics said state intervention would do more harm than good. Augustin Landier, an economics professor, said: "This cult of the strategist state risks ending in waste and mismanagement."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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