PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron yesterday announced a plan worth 30 billion euros ($35 billion) to re-industrialize France, saying the country should reclaim its crown as a global leader in innovation. Speaking at the Elysee Palace six months before a presidential election and one month ahead of a UN climate summit, Macron said France had taken key decisions “15-20 years later than some of our European neighbors” and now needed “to become a nation of innovation and research again”.
The spending was to address “a kind of growth deficit” for France brought on by insufficient investment in the past, he told an audience of company leaders and university students. France, he said, needed to return to “a virtuous cycle” which consisted of “innovating, producing and exporting and in that way finance our social model” as part of a new “France 2030” plan. Over the next decade, France would aim to become a global leader in green hydrogen, which companies and governments are increasingly putting at the center of efforts to de-carbonize economic sectors that rely most on fossil fuels for their energy needs.
Macron singled out steel production, cement and the chemical sector, as well as truck, bus, rail and air transport. He said that following the COVID-19 pandemic, “which put us face to face with our vulnerabilities”, France had to work towards French and European productive autonomy. France also needed to invest heavily in medical research, Macron said.
After the global COVID outbreak, French pharma giants were unable to come up with a vaccine, unlike biotech startups BioNTech and Moderna. The aim was now for France to develop “at least 20” biotech drugs against cancers, as well as against emerging and chronic illnesses, including those associated with ageing, Macron said. “We need to concentrate all our efforts on this objective,” he said.
A new revolution
A French presidential official, who asked not to be named, said Macron had laid out the plan in the wake of the COVID crisis “which showed our vulnerability and our dependence on foreign countries in some key sectors but also the importance of innovation which can change everything.” French officials believe that France needs to act rapidly to close the gap and not surrender more ground to emerging powers, notably China.
French carmakers, which Macron said had suffered “cruelly” over the past 30 years, should redirect their efforts towards cleaner vehicles, with a target of putting two million electric or hybrid cars on the roads. Macron said France would also invest 1 billion euros by 2030 in “disruptive innovation” to produce atomic power, notably by designing small-size nuclear reactors with improved nuclear waste management.
Disruptive innovation was also needed in agriculture, where two billion euros would be earmarked for new technologies, he said, especially in robotics. France should start “a new revolution” in food production which should be “healthy, sustainable and traceable”. This would also rely on investment in “three revolutions” which he said were digital, robotics and gene technology.
Agriculture would become cleaner, phase out “some pesticides”, enjoy greater productivity and develop “bio-solutions” that would be “more resilient and more solid”, the president said. Macron’s plan also called for a boost in French deep sea exploration over the next decade. – AFP