Last month marked the centenary of the end of the First World War, and a time for remembrance. As we grapple with great political division, both at home and abroad, it’s important to recall the formation of historic diplomatic partnerships, such as the one between Great Britain and France – which started over a century ago and has stood ever since.
Once rivals, the two nations joined forces at the turn of the century, and the relationship has since formed the heart of European political and economic development.
Not only in politics, security and culture, Britain and France are closely tied in economic terms; the two countries are leading trade partners for one another, and major providers of direct foreign investment.
This extensive economic cooperation has taken on a new form in the age of digital. The high rate of new businesses, enhanced levels of investor interest, and ultra-fast exchange of ideas and data has expanded the opportunity for collaboration.
The UK has fortified its position as a leading technology hub, not only in Europe, but globally. Home to 13 unicorns – more than any other European country – the UK is the dominant tech centre that attracts mass investment and is home to European headquarters of American tech giants.
France, however, is fast gaining ground. The country’s tech industry has grown rapidly in the past decade, emerging as the closest European counterpart to the UK. In 2017 alone, French venture capitalists raised a record €2.7bn, and another €2.8bn was invested in French tech from abroad.
This growth has not gone unnoticed. The French government has backed the industry, introducing a tech visa to ensure a steady pipeline of talent, creating a €10bn national innovation fund and streamlining the country’s corporate tax laws.
As Paris grows in stature within the European tech landscape, forming close partnerships is becoming increasingly important – and the UK lends itself as an ideal economic partner in the digital age.
Paris has been pegged by many as the leading rival tech hub to London. However, this is the wrong attitude to take when it comes to technological expertise and innovation – collaboration rather than competition is crucial for tech hubs to grow, exchange resources and ideas.
With both France and the UK experiencing fast-growth in the digital sectors, and developing cutting-edge technology in such fields as fintech, artificial intelligence and creative tech, there is a clear-cut opportunity to develop links across industry, academia and government.
Both France and the UK must seize the economic and social benefits of fast-developing technology such as AI, and boost each other’s prospects.
A strong London-Paris link will fuel European technological progress, and represent the continent’s innovation on a global scale. The US and China still remain the world’s dominant tech centres, and by forming a close collaborative relationship, Paris and London can help boost each other’s already developed ecosystems to gain a competitive advantage.
The two cities have much to offer each other. Where Paris is weak, London is strong – and vice versa. Unlike London, the French capital has long struggled to attract foreign investment on a great scale, while London lags behind on digital infrastructure that has been heavily invested in by the French. Close collaboration will bring together experts on data, cyber security, digital government and digital skills to share their knowledge.
As important trading partners, London and Paris must remain closely tied together and coordinated on technological development, to ensure both economies develop and grow at a sustainable pace.
At the heart of the collaborative effort between the two cities will be the private sector link and the capacity to connect the entrepreneurs, start-up founders and investors from both sides. Tech Paris Advocates – a sibling group to 7,000 strong Tech London Advocates network that champions UK tech – will launch today as part of the Global Tech Advocates network, with the objective to boost the prospects of Paris as a tech hub and export its innovation globally.
By adding crucial international connections to its ecosystem, Paris is strengthening its digital footprint, both in Europe and globally. But perhaps more importantly, the city is forming ties with London that will facilitate growth of its digital economy more broadly.
The UK-France relationship has a long and intricate history, one that has ultimately led to growth and prosperity for both nations. Now it enters a new phase that calls for partnerships rather than rivalry in the digital arena – and both countries will be better off for it.
Russ Shaw is the founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates