Over the last two weeks I had the pleasure of attending the eG8 Summit in Paris at the invitation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and being invited to tea with David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK, at 10 Downing Street. I wanted to share my reflections on both experiences.
The fact that Sarkozy got 1,000 Internet entrepreneurs together in Paris in less than 6 weeks was actually a very impressive feat. Moreover, the who’s who of the Internet was there: Mark Zuckerberg, John Donahue, Eric Schmidt, Sean Parker and many others!
McKinsey started by sharing the findings of a very interesting study they did on the Internet where they showed that:
- For every job destroyed by the Internet, it creates 2.6 jobs
- The Internet accounted for 3.7% of GDP in the countries they surveyed
- The Internet was one of the fastest growing components of GDP in the countries surveyed
Sarkozy then gave a very eloquent speech where he stressed the importance of the Internet to France and as a force for liberty and freedom around the world as displayed during the Arab uprisings. Unfortunately, this is where my compliments end.
Sarkozy kept emphasizing how important it was for the Internet to be “civilized” (e.g.; regulated) and for intellectual property to be protected. The conference itself was boring as the old guard was talking to and at the entrepreneurs rather than talking with them. Worse, the smaller working “forums” were useless as the concluding slides had been written before the conference and their content in no way reflected the discussions in those forums (if anything, they said the exact opposite)! All the political “conclusions” had been reached before the conference even started!
The French government was not ready to heed the advice of the delegates. Eric Schmidt suggested: “Technology will move faster than governments, so don’t legislate before you understand the consequences. You want to tread lightly in regulating brand new industries. The trend is that incumbents will block new things … nobody who is a delegate here would want Internet growth to be slowed by some stupid rule.” American journalism professor Jeff Jarvis stood up and asked Sarkozy to take a “Hippocratic oath” for the Internet: first, do no harm. In response, the president of France said “of course,” but couched his reply in terms that address the need to protect security and privacy.
The event had no real point and seemed merely to be a photo opportunity of Sarkozy chatting with Internet leaders under the pretense he consulted the industry before passing any laws. From a content perspective LeWeb is much more interesting! Fortunately, the networking opportunities at eG8 were great and I took advantage of the opportunity to catch up with all my good French Internet friends.
The meeting at 10 Downing Street with Cameron could not have been more different. There were less than 100 Internet entrepreneurs, but all extremely relevant (which made it much more productive). Moreover, Cameron came in saying: “I disagree with Sarkozy’s conclusions and there are three things I want you to know:
- The Internet represents the future of economy and is a great driver for growth and we want your companies in the UK.
- We understand we don’t have the best environment yet, but are working hard putting in place the right and extremely friendly environment from a regulatory and tax perspective.
- I have a great team of advisors here to help, lean on them as much as you want.”
Instead of Sarkozy’s: “We want to tax, regulate and control you”, it was: “We want to set you free to do whatever you do best and let your creative spirits run wild!”. The contrast is all the more farcical as France just banned the use of the words Facebook and Twitter on TV to the astonishment of every Internet entrepreneur in the world!
Even their personal styles could not have been more different. Sarkozy’s mannerism and tone reek of condescension and arrogance. By comparison Cameron was jovial, approachable, light hearted and self-deprecating: “I sat between Obama and Zuckerberg at the G8 and could not believe I belonged in the room!”
No wonder Loic is seriously considering moving Leweb to London: Cameron’s team is offering to help while the French government seems intent on competing with him!
The conclusion is ineluctable: Cameron rules, Sarkozy sucks! Now if the Brits could just do something about the weather in London, I might even consider moving there