This week, France learned that Axelle Lemaire, State Secretary in charge of the Digital Economy, was nearly given the boot by her superior, Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Economy. Reported by Mediapart[fr], Macron was apparently blocked by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, stirring up questions about who is on whose side. I could care less about those questions. For the past few weeks, I’ve been asking myself a bigger question.
Does France need Axelle Lemaire?
Lemaire arrived 14 months ago during the French government’s first Minister Shuffle (known as a ‘remaniement’), replacing her predecessor Fleur Pellerin, who was moved to Minister of Culture because, well, she was getting more spotlight than her boss, then Minister of the Economy Arnaud Montebourg (who was subsequently ousted six months later). A tough set of shoes to fill, Lemaire took over Pellerin’s pet project, the FrenchTech label, and did her best to get her name out there and get the Pellerin-loving startup scene on her side.
But Pellerin’s success came not from speaking engagements & praise of the French startup ecosystem, responsibilities which Lemaire has more than adequately filled, but in her ability to get the French Government to consider digital startups when passing legislation. Even today from her role as Minister of Culture, she has been able to balance how the French government deals with Amazon, for example, when it comes to eBooks and France’s love of bookstores.
Loi sur le Renseignement | Too little, too late
Where many have felt let down by Lemaire, myself included, has been that she forgot to fill the shoes of fighting for entrepreneurs. After being mysteriously quiet about the Loi sur le Renseignement (the so-called French Patriot Act), Lemaire now says that she heavily objected internally, and even considered quitting, but ultimately didn’t. Easy words coming from someone who’s reportedly on the good list of the Prime Minister; I have trouble buying the after-the-fact defense.
Loi sur le Numerique | Two years too late
Case number two, the Loi sur le Numerique (Digital Bill), which has been pushed back for years now, has yet to see the light of day – although Manuel Valls & Axelle Lemaire announced that the public would get to not only read it but propose changes to it as early as this summer.
I’ve had a number of opportunities to sit down when the cameras were off and chat with Lemaire about her views – we tend to fall on the same side on a lot of issues, and, like most politicians, she says it’s hard to get change pushed through to legislation if it’s not key to an administration – however, if Lemaire is only able to make Skype call appearances to web conferences, and can’t push through her own opinions when they conflict with the agenda, then the question remains: do we need Axelle Lemaire?
I refuse to accept this as an excuse, and I think it’s complacent to say “Politics is a tight rope that you have to walk lightly.” If you can’t push change through against someone else’s wishes, then you shouldn’t get into Politics in the first place.
I believe that we need someone in the Government representing the needs of the digital economy, of entrepreneurs, of investors, and I believe that Axelle Lemaire is passionate about the growth of the French startup ecosystem. Yet, somehow, the two haven’t come together to create a warrior waging battle for us – or at least, if her words are to be believed, she’s losing all the key battles, and spending her time practicing her rallying cry in front of tech conference after tech conference.
I don’t think I have the answer to the question I’m asking myself – I think that France’s digital economy has to voice its opinion. As I look back to all the support Fleur Pellerin got when she was moved to Minister of Culture, all the hashtags and tweets and Facebook posts and muddled conversations at networking events, I can’t help but wonder: where are the words of encouragement for Lemaire? #DoesFranceNeedLemaire? You tell me.