Macron is the Disruptive, Tech-Savvy Outsider France Needs

France has already embraced technology — now it’s time for its president to do so, too

By Gary Shapiro

As the final round of French elections approaches, comparisons of the two candidates — former National Front party leader Marine Le Pen and En Marche! Party leader Emmanuel Macron — center on a common trait: their shared status as outsiders.

Le Pen says she represents the forgotten, overlooked workers in French society and has found support from the working class. Macron, a former investment banker, has shown he’s unafraid to embrace immigration and trade as drivers of a global economy.

Though Le Pen has been touted for her status as an outsider, it’s Macron’s business background that makes him France’s most effective candidate to deliver positive change. France is emerging as a world leader in technological innovation, and if the country intends to keep this lead up, it must accept the basic principles of innovation: an openness to outsiders and embrace of disruption.

Macron knows this is what France needs. While speaking on a panel with other pro-innovation global political leaders at CES® 2016 — The Global Stage for Innovation — he said, “When you are [the] government, the first objective would be not to block innovation… Innovation is made by outsiders, by entrepreneurs… And most of the time now, it’s about disruption.”

It’s obvious Macron is proud of his country’s renewed dedication to innovation. At CES, he sported a red rooster pin on the lapel of his blazer — the symbol of “La French Tech,” the government-sponsored innovation coalition that brought a dozen French startups to CES with Macron.

Other non-government sponsored French startups joined them at CES, making France the second-largest exhibiting company at CES’ startup pavilion, Eureka Park(TM), with 249 exhibitors. France’s presence at CES has skyrocketed over the past four years — the number of French exhibitors jumped nearly eight-fold between 2013 and 2017.

The growing French presence at CES is due both to government policies that support innovation and the country’s strong tech education programs. French students study computer science, electronics and mechanics, equipping them for the jobs of the future. And although Macron himself couldn’t make it to CES 2017, many other French political leaders did come — including former presidential candidate François Fillon, Minister of State for the Digital Sector and Innovation Axelle Lamaire and Minister of Economy and Finance Michel Sapin.

Macron’s platform includes policies that will make the disruptive and innovative principles he discussed at CES a reality. Macron plans to ease the burden on business by allowing the negotiation of work hours with their employees, reducing corporate taxes from 33 percent to 25 percent and lowering government spending. He also wants to keep France in the European Union (EU) which, despite being a highly unfriendly regulatory environment, makes trade with Europe easier as a single, unified entity.

In addition to these pro-business policies, he also plans to make a special effort to support innovation. “Culture, talent, capital and market — these four points are critical…when you innovate,” he said. “You want top talent… You need a good cultural approach. That’s what we are changing in France, to have a much more pro-business and pro-entrepreneurial approach. You need capital…and you need a market, and that’s why the single digital market is critical in Europe.”

Macron doesn’t just advocate for pro-disruption policies — he embodies them. He is a true political outsider. After beginning a career in banking, President Hollande asked him to come on board to reinvigorate the French economy. He has openly defied the powerful French political left, and withdrew from the socialist party to form En Marche!, his own party.

If he wins, he will still have a long road in front of him to unite the country. His relative political inexperience may make confronting the country’s political polarization extremely challenging. And by forming En Marche!, he will have few representatives from his own political party supporting him in the French legislature, making his goal of unity even more difficult. Not to mention, Macron will be tasked with holding together the EU in a post-Brexit world. And beyond his work in France, there’s more to be done to make the EU a pro-innovation, pro-business environment.

Macron’s ability to lead, and lead well, is what the consumer tech sector needs to thrive. “The main risk today,” he said at CES, “is sometimes not to take any risks. That’s the main mistake.”

Emmanuel Macron is open to risk, open to outsiders and open to innovation — the kind of determined leader France needs to chart its forward-looking future in this era of political and technological disruption.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro