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France pushes to become global hub for blockchain — the tech behind bitcoin

French Economy minister Bruno Le Maire takes part in the second edition of the "Choose France" summit, at the Versailles palace, outside Paris, France, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Pool Photo via AP)
French economy minister Bruno Le Maire has backed Paris Blockchain Week. Photo: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AP

The Paris Blockchain Week summit begins on Tuesday, part of a government-backed push to establish France as a global hub for the technology.

“Paris Blockchain Week is a message we send to [the world]: the [French are] ready to welcome you, to accompany you, to help you develop,” France’s digital minister Cedric O tweeted on Monday.

While the summit is a private sector initiative — set up in part by French advertising giant Havas — it has received significant support from the state. The summit aligns with President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitions to establish France as a tech hub and both Cedric O and economy and finance minister Bruno Le Maire have come out in support of the event.

About 1,500 attendees are expected for the first part of the two-day gathering, where 100 speakers from around the world will discuss everything from how to regulate blockchain to how to invest in it.

Blockchain is a broad term for the cryptographic database technology first popularised as the underpinning of bitcoin. The technology enables secure, large-scale open networks, like the bitcoin payment network. Blockchain has sparked huge interest over possible applications elsewhere, from finance to healthcare and even voting.

Acolytes believe it can save money by simplifying processes. Everyone from banks to governments to agricultural businesses have invested hundreds of millions of dollar in researching the technology.

However, detractors argue blockchain has become a meaningless buzzword. A study last year looked at over 40 blockchain applications in international development and found no evidence the tech made any meaningful difference.

Still, Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, told French finance magazine Capital on Monday blockchain is a “priority” for his government.

“Over the next five years, the state will invest €4.5bn [£3.9bn] in breakthrough innovations, including blockchain technologies,” he said. “It is an important commitment. The goal is to take a technological lead to be able to fight, French and European, against the Chinese and American technological giants.”

Le Maire hosted a special event on Monday at the Ministry of Finance to promote Paris Blockchain Week.

“Paris has all the means to become a leading country in Europe for blockchain technology,” Le Maire tweeted.

In his speech at the ministry event he said that the French state would help the construction sector, the energy industry, and agriculture develop blockchain solutions.