On 5 July the French government hosted the France-UK Digital Colloque at the revamped Ministry for Digital Affairs. The event was the latest of a series on the France-UK Data Innovation Taskforce Report, published in June 2016. Panel sessions covered a variety of topics including AI, platform regulation, diversity, and open source.
The event started with a warm embrace between the nations two digital ministers Matt Hancock and Mounir Mahjoubi, who appear personally invested in the strong digital partnership between the UK and France and are both brimming with ideas for how to collaborate. A shame then that Matt Hancock has been moved to the Department for Health as part of Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, replaced by the more analogue Jeremy Wright.
Despite all the talk of shared values and joint priorities, the Digital Colloque means very different things for each party. For the UK, it is essential to demonstrate not only that the UK’s digital sector will survive (and perhaps even benefit from) Brexit, but also that the UK is not withdrawing from the world. Bilateral partnerships like this are intended to become the norm as part of the “Global Britain” agenda.
For France, the collaboration is vital in signalling to international firms that France can essentially act as a bridge between London and the European market and is therefore the ideal investment destination for fast paced start-ups.
In terms of the substance, Hancock and Mahjoubi signed a joint declaration committing to increased cooperation between the two nations in digital innovation. The agreement includes provisions to deepen collaboration between research centres, a five-year accord to work together to improve digital services, and the opening of London start-up accelerator Entrepreneur First in Paris. In addition, the Alan Turing Institute signed an agreement with the AI French institute, DATAIA, to promote collaboration between the French and British sectors.
Mahjoubi was uncompromising in his message that strong regulation is necessary to enable competition, rather than a factor which could hold it back. France is open for business, but is aware that with the creation of new structural actors, there are new dynamics in terms of competition.
Hancock, on the other hand, would like to see less focus on regulation and more focus on the frameworks and shared norms guiding how tech is used. This approach will underpin the development of a duty of care for social media platforms under the Internet Safety white paper, set to be published by the end of the year.
Ministerial shake ups aside, the foundation of the Anglo-French digital alliance appears to be solid, championing a healthy competition between the two countries to become the start-up destination of choice in Europe.
Author: Matt Allison, Public Policy Manager, Access Partnership