March 22, 2012, 12:35 PM

Digital commerce plays a role in the French presidential campaign

Leading candidates talk about ways to boost e-commerce in the country. 

Lead Photo

The digital economy and Internet technology have made an unprecedented mark on the French presidential election, with key contenders putting forward dozens of proposals and promises for digital growth leading up to the April 22 ballot. “It is a certainty that 2012 will be the digital year, and the presidential candidates of the French Republic have well understood that,” says Jean-Baptiste Quesnay, social media consultant for RTLnet, the digital arm of RTL media group.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party has put forward 45 proposals for a digital revolution, including measures for promoting e-commerce and e-business startups. Laure de la Raudière, the UMP national secretary responsible for digital direction, says Sarkozy’s work to help digital businesses during his five years in office has helped turn digital into an election stake.

“There has been a definite awakening to the challenges of digital realities during the president’s current term,” she says. “We have developed a climate of research and innovation extremely favorable to the digital economy by helping to establish young innovative companies, for example, and tripling the research and development tax credit relief measures in 2007.”

De la Raudière says initiatives including university reform and 5-year exemptions on wealth tax for foreign small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) have provided a solid foundation for digital growth.

In the months leading up to the election, leading candidates have been rolling out plans to foster digital technology and e-businesses.

Sarkozy’s UMP has made the creation of a Small Business Act devoted to digital enterprise a key election promise. The act would foster e-commerce with a new “Young Innovative Enterprise” classification dedicated to digital companies, and social security exemptions for new, innovative e-commerce and other web companies. “We want to favor innovation, by reserving a part of public procurement for the purchase of SMEs,” De la Raudière says. “This would be managed by our newly established state I.T. direction department.”

At least one e-commerce concern in France says that a Small Business Act will help foster a Silicon Valley environment for French e-commerce and other web startups. “It will create conditions for new young web businesses to grow and develop more easily,”  reads a recent message on Microsoft France’s Eye on Digital forum. “A way to achieve this is to ensure that public procurement is directed primarily at these start-ups.” 

The UMP is also promising the delivery of high-speed Internet throughout France and aid for digital education. The president’s party is backing the creation of a professional training program dedicated to the deployment of optical fiber, and enhanced studies for students and teachers in new technologies.

The Socialist Party candidate for president, François Hollande, is heading toward the election with a high-tech platform of “Connected France, in a creative society for all.” Central to his party’s digital blueprint is the national deployment of fiber optics and creation of a national public operator to ensure high-speed broadband for all citizens within a decade.

The socialists also back the introduction of a law that would help start-ups and small- and medium-sized businesses gain more government funding for digital projects. “We will restore a favorable tax status and stable social environment for young thriving enterprises,” Hollande says.

Francois Bayrou, the presidential candidate of the centrist Democratic Movement Party, wants to test an autonomous economic zone for e-commerce and other online industries. "A level of liberalization of rules for web businesses," he says, is central to his plan to foster e-business modernity in France. “Digital is more than an economic stake, it is a leap of civilization.”

Bayrou also advocates the launch of a special web site to help demystify the labyrinth of financial aid for business start-ups. The Democratic Movement Party, or MoDem, wants to introduce tax advantages to facilitate the financing of startups, and encourage venture capitalists to invest in off-line businesses.

While Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National (FN) supports new business initiatives via tax breaks and investments, it has made no clear policy announcement on the digital economy. “Tax incentives will be developed for the benefit of individuals, in order to multiply the number of angel [investors], which are far less in number than in Anglo-Saxon countries,” says the FN. 

A collective of 13 industry associations, including French e-commerce organization FEVAD, is calling on candidates to do more to tap the huge potential for job creation and modernization of French society offered by digital economy. In particular, the groups want greater state financing of innovation in e-commerce and web startups, along with relevant tax breaks.

“Candidates have understood that the re-industrialization of our country must be the engine of any effective economic policy,” says Patrick Bertrand, president of AFDEL, a French association of software producers. “The online economy is a powerful lever for growth and productivity."

The Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 will feature special guest speaker Fareed Zakaria, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, discussing “How e-commerce mastery will drive the global economy.” The IRCE $200 early-bird discount expires March 31.

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