The world is going virtual, and so, too, will European and French industrial policies.
As a rule, European governments play a much more central role in establishing economic goals and creating incentives for economic development through investments, subsidies, and policies. That has been true for decades in the physical world.
Now, that reach is now poised to extend into the Metaverse, or Metaverses (Metaversi?)
During her State of the EU address last week (PDF), European Commission President Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen said her agenda for the coming year includes developing an "initiative on virtual worlds" as part of the broader and incredibly-awkwardly named Europe Fit For The Digital Age program. (I know the UK cut and run, but surely the Irish could help avoid silly English usages.)
"We will continue looking at new digital opportunities and trends, such as the metaverse," she said.
Following that speech, Thierry Breton, European commissioner for Internal market, weighed in with a few additional details on LinkedIn, as one still does these days as we await our permanent virtual connections: "Metaverse — a new form of virtual space — is springing (sic) everywhere," he exclaimed, with gusto.
In bureaucrat-splaining the metaverse, Breton makes references to "European Bauhaus" and ancient Greek to describe the virtual vibe that Europe is going for: They are becoming something akin to what for the ancient Greeks was the “Agora”: a public space, a new public “square” where the digital interactions already possible online have the potential to be amplified as never before.
Good news, nerds: Your college philosophy and art history classes are finally paying off!
To tackle the metaverse, the European Commission is going to do the thing that it does best: Create a public-private commission. Or, in this case, The Virtual and Augmented Reality Industrial Coalition.
While Breton said he announced the "launch" of this coalition, it appears to have been at work since at least November 2021. Indeed, they just published in early September an AR/VR roadmap (failing to heed Doc Brown's famous aphorism about the future: "Roads?! Where we're going We don't need Roads!) AND a Strategic Paper on AR/VR that included the very best cover graphics the EU could afford:
The overall attitude here seems to be driven by a couple of classic European tech themes. First, we think our region is full of wonderful talent and this represents an amazing economic opportunity and we're going to invest to help Europe succeed. And second, we don't want the Americans to kick our asses again and stick us with a platform that destroys European values and our way of life.
"With the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), Europe has now strong and future-proof regulatory tools for the digital space," Breton said. "We have also learned a lesson from this work: we will not witness a new Wild West or new private monopolies. We intend to shape from the outset the development of truly safe and thriving metaverses."
Meanwhile, not one to be outmaneuvered on the bureaucratic front, France also announced its own metaverse plans. In this case, Le Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC), created a €3.6 million fund to support French creators pursuing metaverse projects. The CNC is the French agency that funds audio and video projects (radio, tv, film) via money collected from television and cable fees and movie ticket sales.
In this case, the money will go to technical training, virtual projects, and adapting old digital products for new metaverse platforms as a kind of digital Patrimoine preservation.
The fund will be overseen by Jean-Michel Jarre, known for his electronic music and his embrace of virtual-metaversy technologies. If you have an hour to kill, you can watch the combo live/VR concert he gave at Notre Dame and rejoice (or shudder) at the virtual experiences that await us all.
"Immersive creation is an area of innovation that brings together creatives, technologists, and entrepreneurs capable of projecting the whole French image industry toward this new digital continent," said CNC president Dominique Boutonnat in a statement. "Also at stake is our sovereignty and international influence which we must embrace."
PS: Suck it, Silicon Valley.