France takes on Google; wants to be cutting edge

25th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 25, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday unveiled plans to invest in six major high-tech projects -- including a European rival to the search engine Google -- in a bid to secure France's place as a world leader in industrial innovation.

PARIS, April 25, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday unveiled plans to invest in six major high-tech projects -- including a European rival to the search engine Google -- in a bid to secure France's place as a world leader in industrial innovation.

A Franco-German search engine called 'Quaero', personally backed by Chirac as a counter to US domination on the Internet, is the most high-profile of the projects selected by France's Agency for Industrial Innovation (AII).

Other schemes — focused on future environmental challenges — include an advanced light metro train called 'NeoVal', a plan to produce plastics from starch, and a project called 'Homes' that aims to slash household electricity use by 20 percent.

A fifth project is for a hybrid diesel-electric car, already under development by the French car maker PSA Peugeot, while the last involves a technique for broadcasting high-definition television to mobile phones.

Chirac said the projects were chosen to "focus on essential technological challenges for our future" and to show the world that France is more than a "museum country".

With them, he said, France hopes to "invent the processes, applications and products of the future".

Carried out over three to seven years, the first five projects are to cost EUR 600 million, with PSA Peugeot's hybrid vehicle to be funded separately.

France's AII, a state body created last year with an endowment of 1.7 billion euros, is to cover around half the costs in the form of subsidies and loans, with private sector investors expected to match the state funds.

Chirac's office said the projects were expected to create "tens of thousands of jobs", both directly and indirectly.

The largest single project, Quaero — an ambitious public-private partnership that aims to challenge Google, the overwhelming market leader with more than eight billion web pages indexed — is to cost 250 million euros.

Quaero — which means "to seek" in Latin — will offer sophisticated search technology, as well as translation and voice-recognition tools.

It has been under development for the past year, backed by big industry players including France Telecom, the French media technology group Thomson, the German engineering group Siemens and publishing giant Bertelsmann, as well as research institutes in both countries.

In addition to the first six projects, the AII is examining some 30 others and will see its budget jump to two billion euros next year, Chirac said.

The French president said he hoped the agency would be "a driving force for the power and talent of our entire continent".

Chirac acknowledged that France currently lagged behind other countries in terms of industrial innovation — it has only one company among the world's top 30 in terms of research spending — and said the new plan was "essential in order to hold our rank".

"This is the best response to outsourcing," he said, vowing that the scheme would "create new, highly qualified jobs" in France.

Commentators said Chirac's government hoped the forward-looking, upbeat investment plan would help it bounce back after the damaging crisis over its youth job reforms, ahead of next year's presidential election.

But according to Britain's Financial Times, the scheme has been received coolly by some French groups that see it as unwelcome state intervention.

The FT also quoted a source close to Chirac as complaining that the German government was dragging its feet on his request that it launch a sister fund.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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