Google and Paris are far from a perfect couple. This became abundantly clear last night following an appearance by the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, at one of France's top universities.
Pichai, however, was there to charm businesses and news organizations, not governments.
Today, Pichai continues his charm offensive in Europe — this time, in the heart of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, where he will meet European officials to discuss alleged anti-competitive practices and a so-called "sweetheart" tax deal with the British.
He will also meet with Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner in charge of EU digital policy, to discuss tech skills and jobs, a single European digital market, and ways to make it easier for Internet companies to transcend national boundaries in Europe.
Eyes on Paris
For the moment, though, all the talk is about what happened in Paris last night. Pichai came to France to announce a substantial aid package for European news organizations, including a number in France.
French fiscal authorities replied some hours later by indicating they have no plans to back-down on Google’s tax liability in France, which is reportedly close to $1.7 billion.
The French Minister for Finance ruled out any kind of deal similar to the one Google made in Britain last month. The U.K. Parliament’s Committee of Public Accounts, in a review of Google’s controversial $180 million tax settlement released yesterday, described the deal as “disproportionately small.”
Pichai would not be drawn on the specifics of the French case. But he said, "We're a global company. We have to abide by tax laws everywhere, we do abide by local tax laws in every single country. We're advocating strongly for a simpler global tax system."
Google has problems in Europe. But in light of Europe’s struggling economies, Google is unlikely to have to work to hard to overcome its current difficulties.
Europe needs Google — and Google knows it.
Take the case of France. France’s economy is in the doldrums after the economic crash of the 'noughties,' which it has never really been able to shrug off.
In Paris last night, Pichai offered jobs, training and investment. During a speech at The National Institute of Political Science — better known as Sciences Po, one of France’s top academic institutions — he announced that Google will provide $29.7 million to 128 news organizations in Europe as part of its "Digital News Initiative."
The money is part of a 150 million fund that Google announced previously to help European news organizations with new projects that help their digital transformation.
"We are committed to ongoing discussion between the tech and news sectors," he said. "[We aim] to promote innovation in digital journalism. And play our part in building a more sustainable news ecosystem."
The funds offered by Google will "stimulate innovation in digital journalism" and will be spread out over the coming three years, he said. "The aim is to spark new thinking, which could come from anywhere, to give news organizations of all sizes the space to try new things and get projects off the drawing board and into production," he added.
What Google Offers
Whether it was coincidental or a move to bring more news organizations on board, the search engine started including links to “Accelerated Mobile Pages” (AMP) in search results.
AMP is an open source initiative to make the mobile web as fast as possible and has already roped in hundreds of publishers, scores of technology companies and ad-tech businesses.
But back to Pichai. In last night’s speech, he also announced that Google would digitally train 200,000 people in France alone this year.
Last February Google pledged to train one million Europeans in crucial digital skills as it promised to invest an additional €25 million to broaden its training programmer across the continent.
But it’s not enough, it seems. At the Google Europe, Middle East and Africa headquarters in Dublin yesterday, Google said it was going to double the amount of people it trained from one million to two million people to get more people and businesses online.
The French tax authorities may insist publicly on extracting payment, but with the kind of investment and opportunities that Google is creating in France, compromise is almost certain.