President Hollande Faces Tough Crowd in Silicon Valley

He will be the first French president to visit tech companies there in 30 years.

French president Francois Hollande looks on during a press conference with Palestinian counterpart at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris on June 8, 2012
National Journal
Laura Ryan
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Laura Ryan
Feb. 12, 2014, 9:02 a.m.

French Pres­id­ent François Mit­ter­rand, a pro­fessed tech en­thu­si­ast, vis­ited Sil­ic­on Val­ley in 1984 to meet with an en­tre­pren­eur named Steve Jobs. Thirty years later, an­oth­er French pres­id­ent by the name of François is vis­it­ing Sil­ic­on Val­ley — the first pres­id­en­tial vis­it since Mit­ter­rand’s.

After woo­ing the D.C. polit­ic­al elite Tues­day, Pres­id­ent François Hol­lande will at­tempt to do the same Wed­nes­day with Sil­ic­on Val­ley’s tech elite.

Over lunch with Google’s Eric Schmidt, Face­book’s Sheryl Sand­berg, Twit­ter and Square’s Jack Dorsey, and Tony Fadell, founder of Nest, Hol­lande will tell tech ex­ec­ut­ives that France is open for busi­ness. The pres­id­ent wants tech com­pan­ies to in­vest more in France, which is ex­per­i­en­cing a brain drain as the coun­try’s eco­nomy re­mains stag­nant.

But he is fa­cing a tough crowd. Hol­lande — who once said “I do not like the rich” — has been a vo­cal crit­ic of U.S. tech com­pan­ies’ pri­vacy and tax prac­tices. Just last week, Hol­lande, a So­cial­ist, cri­ti­cized com­pan­ies like Google for avoid­ing pay­ing their fair share of taxes.

“This is not ac­cept­able and that is why, at both the European and the glob­al level, we must en­sure that tax op­tim­isa­tion … can be called in­to ques­tion,” Hol­lande said dur­ing a vis­it to a French In­ter­net com­pany last Thursday.

The EU’s le­gis­lat­ive body also in­tro­duced re­forms to glob­al In­ter­net gov­ernance Wed­nes­day aimed at re­du­cing U.S. con­trol in light of re­cent rev­el­a­tions about the U.S. gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance pro­gram.

Not to men­tion, un­like the first François, this François has a repu­ta­tion for be­ing skep­tic­al of new tech­no­lo­gies. Ac­cord­ing to The Wall Street Journ­al and French news­pa­per Le Par­is­i­en, the pres­id­ent prefers news­pa­pers to iPads and he does not use SnapChat. And when it comes to Twit­ter?

“I look when they show me,” said Hol­lande ac­cord­ing to the French news­pa­per. “There’s an ad­dict­ive side to all that stuff that you need to de­fend against.”

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