French AI startups thought they were invincible. Then came the elections

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“Then, on the other hand, (the left-wing New Popular Front) has been so vocal about all the tax measures they want to roll back that it feels like we’re going back to the pre-Macron era,” says Varza. She points to France’s 2012 “Les Pigeons” (or “Suckers”) movement, a campaign led by angry internet entrepreneurs who protested Socialist President François Hollande’s plan to dramatically raise taxes for founders.

Maya Noël, CEO of France Digital, an industry group for startups, is concerned not just about France’s ability to attract foreign talent, but also about how attractive the next government will be to foreign investors. In February, Google said it would open a new AI hub in Paris, where 300 researchers and engineers will work. Three months later, Microsoft also announced a record $4 billion investment in its French AI infrastructure. Meta has had an AI research lab in Paris since 2015. Today France is attractive to foreign investors, she says. “And we need them.” Neither Google nor Meta responded to WIRED’s request for comment. Microsoft declined to comment.

The vote won’t remove Macron himself from office — a presidential election isn’t scheduled until 2027 — but the election results could dramatically reshape the lower house of the French parliament, the National Assembly, and put someone from a far-right or left-wing coalition as prime minister. That would plunge the government into uncertainty, raising the risk of deadlock. In the past 60 years, there have been only three times when a president has been forced to govern with a prime minister from the opposition party, known in France as “cohabitation.”

No AI startup has benefited more from the Macron era than Mistral, whose co-founders include Cedric O, a former digital minister in Macron’s government. Mistral has not commented publicly on the choice facing France in the election. The closest the company has come to sharing its views was Cedric O’s decision to repost an X post by entrepreneur Gilles Babinet last week, which said: “I hate the far-right but the left’s economic program is unrealistic.” When WIRED asked Mistral about the retweet, the company said O was not a spokesperson, and declined to comment.

Babinet, a member of the government’s artificial intelligence committee, says he has already heard of colleagues considering leaving France. “Some coders I know from Senegal and Morocco are already planning their next move,” he says, claiming people have even contacted him for help renewing their visas early, as doing so may be even more difficult under the right-wing government.

According to the report, while other industries are quietly moving to support the right-wing ideology as a better alternative to the left-wing coalition, Babinet underestimates the threat from the New Popular Front. “It’s clear that they come with very old-fashioned economic rules, and so they don’t understand the new economy at all,” he says. But after speaking to members of the New Popular Front, he says the hard-left are a minority in the coalition. “Most of these people are Social Democrats, and so they know from experience that when François Hollande came to power, he tried to raise taxes on technology, and it failed miserably.”

There is already a sense of damage control, as the industry tries to reassure outsiders that everything will be fine. Babinet points to other moments of political chaos that the industry survived. “At the end of the day, Brexit wasn’t such a nightmare for the tech scene in the UK,” he says. According to the Accel report, the UK is still the preferred place to launch generative AI startups.

OpenAI alumnus Stanislas Poulu, who launched French AI startup Dust last year, agrees that the industry has enough momentum to weather any difficulties that come its way. “Some of the results may be a bit disappointing,” he says, adding that he expects an impact on personal finances. “It’s always a bit more complicated to navigate a high volatility environment. I think we’re hoping that more liberal people will rule that country. I think that’s all we can hope for.”

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