PARIS — When President Emmanuel Macron took office, he took pains to include two iPhones in his official portrait, a symbol of his penchant for technology. Millennials throng as he buzzes from one French start-up event to the next. He has wined and dined the chief executives of the world’s largest tech companies, who in turn have vowed to invest billions in France.
Yet a year after Mr. Macron unveiled an aggressive agenda to turn France into “a start-up nation,” it is unclear if reality has kept pace with his rhetoric. While the country has quickly become one of the most talked-about destinations in Europe for tech companies and start-ups, France still faces an uphill path in its bid to usurp London as the region’s technology leader.
The French president has carefully cultivated a tech-savvy image, promoted a steady drumbeat of high-profile events, and even pushed through a raft of economic and labor reforms to make his country more appealing to investors. But France continues to lag Britain in tech-related investments and in the business of artificial intelligence. Start-ups still face challenges in scaling up. And a lot of seed funding comes from the French government itself.
Companies have been pledging to do more in France. In January, for example, the chief executives of the world’s biggest technology companies announced 3.5 billion euros, or $4.1 billion, in new investments and the creation of at least 2,200 jobs in the next five years.
Those figures are minuscule compared with investment in Silicon Valley, and even London. Mr. Macron nevertheless sought to build on France’s momentum on Wednesday, when he convened 60 tech chief executives for meetings in Paris. The French president met individually with the Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and with the leaders of IBM, Microsoft and Uber later Wednesday at the Élysée Palace.
The official focus of the talks, which preceded a giant technology and start-up conference being held in Paris, was data privacy. The meetings came a day after Mr. Zuckerberg faced strident questioning by lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels on privacy failures linked to the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.
Facebook has faced a barrage of public criticism over its handling of user data and vast powers, points Mr. Macron intends to press further on Wednesday. The president’s office also said that Mr. Macron would have frank discussions with the various chief executives over the taxation of tech companies and fighting the proliferation of rumors and misinformation spreading online. The meetings come…
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