Brussels erupted in fury upon learning that French artificial intelligence champion Mistral and American IT behemoth Microsoft were forming a new alliance. However, for President Emmanuel Macron of France, everything was proceeding according to plan. Macron’s administration has worked feverishly to position France as a pro-innovation and pro-regulation stronghold of European AI dynamism. The president of France hopes to establish his nation as a leader in new technologies worldwide.

Rise of billionaire ownership

Prior to the AI Safety Summit in the UK last year, Macron’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stated, “On AI, Europe should innovate before it regulates.” “We need regulation, but it will work better if European players get the hang of AI.” Paris hopes to consider the Mistral-Microsoft contract as a success for its strategy, despite the fact that the French government acknowledged it was unaware of the agreement prior to its announcement. Through the agreement, the French company would be able to use the computer giant’s Azure platform to increase its reach and challenge the titans of Silicon Valley on an equal footing. The main digital policy of the European Union is to penalize and impede large, frequently American Big Tech corporations. Conversely, France is more realistic and prepared to warm up to the US, particularly if it results in a thriving homegrown AI industry.

Political instrumentalization

Last year, two French millionaires and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who supports Mistral, collaborated to open an AI center in the French capital. The owners of Facebook and Instagram, Meta, and the search engine behemoth Google have long-standing AI research departments in Paris, and they are expanding their efforts there. Le Maire was present at Google’s new AI hub’s opening a few weeks ago, and Meta established a new AI business incubator in November. Le Maire stated during the inauguration that the goal is to establish France as “the best in artificial intelligence in Europe and around the world.” 

The Microsoft-Mistral agreement this week exemplifies France’s view of “technological sovereignty.” The nation aims to position French businesses as global leaders, in line with Europe’s broader goal of lowering its reliance on other areas for vital technology like artificial intelligence. That’s OK if it forces the region’s French darlings to team up with American heavyweights.

Erosion of Pluralism

Mistral bills itself as an all-European AI virtuoso capable of competing with Google’s AI lab or OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT. Additionally, it vigorously opposed the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act, arguing that it would stifle emerging European AI companies. This may have been the reason Paris demanded and won amendments to the bill during intense discussions. However, Mistral has been licking the cash from non-French customers. It received €385 million in December from sources that included American venture capital giants Andreessen Horowitz and Lightspeed. 

Microsoft also invested €15 million in Mistral as part of the new agreement, which allows Mistral to train new AI models on its supercomputers. Not at all at this point. Europe is still insufficient when it comes to raising €500 million,” stated Marianne Tordeux-Bitker, public affairs director of France Digitale, the association representing French internet businesses.

Impact on democracy

EU officials claim it’s proof that Mistral is a stalking horse for US interests rather than the shining example of EU technological excellence. One of the European Parliament members who worked on the AI Act, Kim van Sparrentak, referred to Mistral as a “front for American-influenced Big Tech lobbying.” 

In the stressful last hours of discussions over the bloc’s historic AI regulation, some in Brussels are also reevaluating Paris’s involvement. In an effort to give its smaller, international competitors more room to maneuver, France vigorously campaigned to restrict monitoring to European AI companies. These EU officials openly question if France, which was heavily pressured by Mistral, was upfront with other European nations now that Mistral has fallen into bed with Microsoft. Working on the AI Act, Kai Zenner was an aide in the Parliament. “The understanding of ‘digital sovereignty’ pushed by France and others in the negotiations was to create genuine EU companies without any non-EU links,” Zenner stated, referring to the end-stage discussions. For the French, that just proves that influential people admire Mistral.

Conclusion

In conclusion, An official for France’s digital ministry stated, “We are happy it shows that France’s strategy is correct  when companies or leading startups are not taken over by U.S. giants, but create non-exclusive partnerships to break monopolies. France has advocated frankly and clearly for a European AI ecosystem, and for the creation in our country of AI giants like Mistral.”