French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron threw down the tech gauntlet on Tuesday, gambling on an ambitious plan that could “re-industrialize” the country.

Macron, who faces a presidential election in six months, unveiled a five-year investment plan aimed at fostering industrial champions and innovation, France24 reported.

 The €30 billion (US$35 billion) project aims to make France a leader in green hydrogen by 2030 and build new, smaller nuclear reactors.

“We need to reinvest in a strategy of growth,” Macron told a selected audience of 200 ministers, company bosses, politicians, scientists and students at the Elysée Palace. “If we don’t reindustrialize the country, we cannot again become a nation of innovation and research.” 

Setting out some of the plan’s targets, Macron said France would build a low-carbon plane, a small modular reactor as well as two megafactories for the production of green hydrogen – all by the end of the decade.

It would also produce large numbers of electric vehicles.

He said his long-term roadmap, dubbed “France 2030,” would give a key role to small, agile start-ups in building France’s industrial future alongside well-established giants.

Macron said that Europe will never have enough renewable energy capacity to produce sufficient green hydrogen for mobility, and that France’s nuclear plants are a major asset for producing green hydrogen via electrolysis, Reuters reported.

Pointing to a shortage of face masks when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, Macron said the pandemic had exposed vulnerabilities and highlighted the need for innovation and industrial capabilities close to home. 

“We must rebuild a framework to ensure the productive independence of France and Europe,” he said, stressing that innovation would be key amid global competition for leadership and access to raw materials.

“The winner takes it all,” he added.

The French government is betting big on becoming a global innovation leader in areas such as green industry, digital and bio technology, health and space. Credit: Handout.

Other objectives include investing in semi-conductors and beefing up innovation in the French health sector, including biomedicine.

The €30 billion comes in addition to a €100 billion recovery plan announced last year to help France weather the coronavirus pandemic, a large share of which went to promoting greener energy policies.

The plan includes €8 billion being spent on renewables, nuclear and hydrogen. But €4 billion will be spent on transport and mobility, with a target to produce 2 million electric and hybrid vehicles and the first low emission aircraft.

Meanwhile, €6 billion will be put toward robotics, €1.5 billion will be allocated for projects such as virtual reality, while another €1.5 billion will be earmarked for food and agriculture.

A further €5 will be ring-fenced for industrial startups and €2 billion will be for training for sectors that are booming.

“The last 30 years have been cruel for the French car industry,” Macron said, adding that achieving this goal would require effective cooperation between major manufacturers.

Elsewhere steel production, cement and the chemical sector, as well as truck, bus, rail and air transport were also singled out as important areas of investment.

Macron argued the 2030 strategy was urgently needed to make up for a deficit of 15-20 years that had left France lagging behind its European neighbours in many areas of innovation and research.

Cédric O, minister for the digital economy, said the “real revolution” of France 2030 was that it represented a “massive bet” on start-ups or “emerging actors.”

He said: “We want to have Elon Musks in France.” 

The wide-ranging plan was swiftly criticized by the opposition, with rivals saying this was electoral campaigning.

Macron is expected to seek a second five-year term at the Elysée Palace.

“A few months from the end of his mandate, the outgoing president commits French money to restore his electoral image with promises which only bind his successor,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Twitter.

“It’s the ‘whatever the cost, I want to be re-elected!’,” she said of Macron.

Sources: France24, Reuters, Sydney Morning Herald, RFI France, Financial Times