IThey are the 100 best French inventors and your newspaper Punto revealed to you, in its latest issue, the incredible innovations behind them. Some of them will change medication and diet. Others will reduce our impact on the environment.
These French geniuses have many merits. Not only do they participate in development, but they also do so in an ecosystem that is sometimes against them. The numbers prove it: France is eleventh in the world ranking of innovative economies (Global Innovation Index 2021). A place that is certainly noble, but considered less than its potential: it is seventh in the hierarchy of global economic power.
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Principle of caution
Hexagonal change constraints are many. The precautionary principle, which has tainted the public debate for a long time, is the explanation often given by the intellectuals in question. “It was initially a principle of action, it became a castrator,” said economist Pascal Perri, also a columnist at LCI. This provision, defined and ratified at the Rio summit in 1992, entered into the French Constitution in 2005. To the fullest, the precautionary principle eliminates any risk to health and the environment in the absence of scientific and technical assurance of the painless nature of innovation.
So far, the Constitutional Council has not rejected any law in its name. On the other hand, it is generally accepted in economic circles that this principle paralyzes initiative. “In the name of a potential risk, we deprive ourselves of possible positive effects. But without taking risks, there is no change!” Said the economist.
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GMOs are an emblematic case. In France, the commercial cultivation of genetically modified seeds has been banned since 2008. Ironically, however, it is possible to import them! On the side of scientific research, no experiments on GMO plants in the open field are currently authorized. No file was also filed, apparently through self-censorship … The last trial began in 2013! “Alas, the research is being done elsewhere,” said the economist, also a spokesman for the Yes to Innovation working group.
However, GMOs are the promise of developing crops capable of combating global warming, but also certain diseases in order, ultimately, to reduce the use of pesticides. “Politics is blocking change, probably because we lack a scientific culture,” confirms Erwann Tison, director of studies at think tank Institut Sapiens. What is true for GMOs is also true for autonomous cars. “We have the capacity to build driverless cars in France, but not the possibility to test the product on the roads”, regrets the co-author of the test. A robot in my car (MA edition, 2020).
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The principle of caution does not explain everything. France is also the country of standards. Cliché to say, but the numbers are cruel. In one ladle, there are 400,000, to which 11,500 laws (including 320,000 articles) and 130,000 ordinances should be added. On January 25, 2022, the net stock of words to say standards reached 44.1 million on Legifrance.fr (the official website for French legal and regulatory texts), according to senior civil servant Christophe Éoche-Duval, author of the study “A“ French evil ”: the“ e-norm ”of its legal production? “. According to his calculations, the increase is 93.8% since 2002. All of these regulations operate a form of glaciation of change.
In addition to the weight of the standards, the unknown phenomenon of “standards capture” limits change. “Large companies, which have innovated in the past, are hiding behind the standards they have influenced to prevent the arrival of new participants”, Pascal Perri explains. This is the classic game of lobbies, these popular pressure groups were created to defend the interests of an organization.
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Culture of financial risk
On the other brakes, France is showing very strong financial risk aversion. “In Pasteur, Inserm or CNRS, most innovative projects are rejected for fear of losing all the money invested. We really lack an adventurous spirit,” notes Erwann Tison. How can they be blamed? Behind every decision maker , a good public servant is anxious not to “burn the cash register” in a (global) context of the State’s withdrawal from R&D funding.In France, the State funded 53.4% of domestic research and development expenditure in 1981. In 2019, the share fell to 32.54%.
Not surprisingly, the risk culture is somewhat different in the United States. You only need to read the note from the Institut Sapiens to convince it (Addressing the challenge of global technological competition, December 2021). On the other side of the Atlantic, the agency that manages R&D for new technologies for military use (the famous Darpa) “only agrees to take on impossible missions, projects rejected by the private sector”. A French public administration will never face such a risk. “In France, we don’t have oil, we have ideas… but there’s no way to refine them,” Erwann Tison slips mischievously. It should be noted, however, that French start-ups have raised 11.57 billion euros in 2021, a record amount.
The burden of taxation also does not encourage change. to say the least. Economist François Ecalle, a leading public finance authority, said in a note published on his Fipeco website that compulsory levies on capital will represent 10.7% of GDP in 2020. These are taxes levied on corporate income, on the assets of households and businesses as well as on the income of individual entrepreneurs. This is 0.4 points higher than in 2016, despite Emmanuel Macron’s famous 30% “flat tax” on capital income. The European Union average is at 7.9%, down 0.2 points over the same period …
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These brakes on change do not completely weaken the capacity of companies for change. In 2021, France filed a specific 10,537 patent applications, thus maintaining its second European rank, behind Germany (25,969) and ahead of Switzerland (8,442). The fields of transportation, medical technology and information technology have met the demand for patents filed with the European Patent Office. On a global scale, France took fifth place, far behind the United States (46,533), first in the ranking.
True, large French companies (Safran, Valeo, Saint-Gobain) and the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) are crushing the Franco-French ranking of innovative companies. However, it illustrates that France is far from being the ossified country often described. “Even if the trend is global, we should give President Macron credit for a new discourse on business and liberation in terms of the spirit of the initiative”, observed Erwan Le Noan, member of the scientific and analytical council. of Fondapol, a laboratory of ideas that defines itself as liberal, progressive and European.
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So far, France has 23 unicorns, these young innovative shoots (start-ups) worth more than a billion dollars. They were just three in 2017, the year in which Emmanuel Macron carried out the ambition to make France a “start-up nation”. A real performance … to qualify. French unicorns are described as queens of technological optimization, such as e-commerce champions Veepee (event sales), ManoMano (DIY and gardening tools) or Vestiaire Collective (second-hand luxury). But they’re still far from inventing, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the rocket returning to Earth.
In a report published in October 2021 (French innovation: our incredible talents), the liberal think tank Institut Montaigne strongly recommended strengthening the links between scientific research and entrepreneurship. “Change doesn’t just happen to the creators of start-ups at HEC,” Erwan Le Noan summarizes. This is done to scientists, but also to young people from the suburbs who practice to generate their own income. “Social inequalities are a huge lever for change in France. If we erase all the distinctive features of innovation (social background, place of residence, etc.), there will be three times more there are many innovators in France, according to the work of economist Xavier Jaravel.Enough to expand the panel of the best French inventors.