Chirac has figured out that France is a laughing stock, but he’s got the wrong solution.
Chirac unveils his grand plan to restore French pride
· President hopes to secure legacy with rival to Google
· Six major projects to get £1.4bn state funding
The French president, Jacques Chirac, yesterday unveiled what he hopes will be his great legacy to France’s struggle against the global dominance of the US: a series of technological projects including a European search engine to rival Google.
Mr Chirac, who walked out of an EU summit last month when a fellow Frenchman committed the grave offence of speaking English, styles himself as the defender of France in the globalised world.
After the biggest street protests in decades forced him to stage a U-turn on employment reform last month, Mr Chirac is keener than ever to be remembered for doing something positive for French pride. Yesterday, he announced that he would provide €2bn (£1.4bn) in funding for a series of innovative grands projets, including a Franco-German search engine to compete with Google and Yahoo!.
Named Quaero – Latin for “I search” – the search engine aims to be the first to efficiently sort through audio, images and video. It would search the growing array of podcasts and videoclips on the web and deliver the information to computers and mobile phones. Quaero has been a pet project of Mr Chirac’s for some time. In his new year speech at the Elysée Palace, he spoke of the need to “take up the global challenge posed by Google and Yahoo!”.
But his plan is not without its sceptics. The French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné has mocked the project’s funding as paltry in comparison with Microsoft or Google. Mike Lynch, chief executive of Autonomy, a Cambridge-based search software firm, wrote to the Financial Times calling the plan “a blatant case of misguided and unnecessary nationalism” and warning that by the time Quaero is developed the market will have moved on.
He’s part right. Technology is the key. But if Jacques Chirac realy wants to restore some pride to his country he needs to spend that £1.4bn making a time machine. One that would go back to about 1939.