Top French officials and businessmen pledge to support Ukraine’s digital sovereignty and development

On December 13 the French capital played host to the “Bilateral Conference for the resilience and reconstruction of Ukraine.” Touted as an initiative from the French president Emmanuel Macron and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, the conference aimed to “outline [Ukraine’s] needs to ensure its economic resilience during the war and its medium-term reconstruction, as well as to encourage the mobilisation of French economic players on these two essential issues.” 

The conference took place at a diplomatically sensitive moment as President Macron’s recent comments on the need to give Russia security guarantees as part of a potential peace deal were met with cold reactions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. 

Photo credits: Ukrainian President Office

Delegations from 46 countries participated in the conference. Bilateral talks involved the French president, the Ukrainian president (remotely), his prime minister Denys Shmyhal and the French minister of economy Bruno Lemaire, among other top officials.

“French companies are not only in a position to play a role in meeting some of the immediate challenges facing Ukraine’s infrastructure and economy, but they also wish to contribute to the major reconstruction project. France has powerful export support tools at its disposal, while multilateral development banks are redeploying or developing significant financing to meet the financing needs of the Ukrainian economy,” the French ministry of economy stated. 

Through dedicated workshops, French businesses were offered the opportunity to meet Ukrainian government officials to discuss reconstruction projects related to energy and other infrastructures, agriculture and food, healthcare, as well as digital development and tech innovation.

As a result of the conference, France pledged to donate some €1 billion to support Ukraine’s most urgent needs, in particular in the field of energy supply as well as water and food supply, healthcare and transportation. President Zelensky hailed the news, characterizing the contribution as “important, pragmatic […] and pleasant.”

€100 million startup fund

Participants in the digital and tech workshop included Alex Bornyakov, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation and head of the Diia City project; Myhailo Fedorov, minister for digital transformation (by video conference), as well as Oleksandr Kosovan, a top Ukrainian entrepreneur; Dominique Piotet, head of La French Tech Kyiv, and other industry figures from both sides. 

A Franco-Ukrainian startup fund with an initial cash injection of €100 million was announced.

The vehicle could make French investors more visible on the Ukrainian venture scene, which has been so far dominated by US funds, believes Piotet.

“Ukraine’s technology sector offers extraordinary investment opportunities and the country is at only three flight hours from Paris,” he said in an exchange with DW. “But up until now, France hadn’t grasped that — only a few percentage points of the money invested in the technology sector is French, 90% of it comes from the US,”

In addition, €1 million in funding will be allocated by the French side “to protect Ukrainian public data and support Ukrainian technology startups,” as reported by Alexander Romanishy, a former Ukrainian deputy minister of economy, on his Linkedin page. 

An agreement on Franco-Ukrainian cooperation “laid out the foundations for the development of a joint roadmap,” Romanishy also noted.

This initiative is aimed to deliver “rapid and concrete results in key areas for Ukraine’s digital sovereignty and development,” including “cybersecurity, financing of start-ups, through bilateral projects encouraging cooperation.”

The parties also agreed that Ecole 42, a renowned French IT school, will welcome Ukrainian students, while Station F, a giant incubator in Paris, will host more Ukrainian startup entrepreneurs with support from La French Tech.

Previous initiatives from French business community

Among the initiatives that emerged previously this year in France to support Ukraine’s tech sector amid the war were the following:

  • Ensemble Ukraine, an initiative launched just days after Russia attacked Ukraine, on Feb. 24, by dozens of citizens and tech entrepreneurs in France, gathered significant means to support Ukraine on the ground and take care of refugees. 
  • In June, 14 Ukrainian startups were featured at Vivatech, one of Europe’s largest tech events held each year in Paris, in a dedicated booth promoting Ukraine as “the world’s R&D lab.” The climax of the show was Volodymyr Zelensky’s appearance at the event on June 17 in the form of a hologram.  
  • Ukrainian investor association UVCA and French non-profit Alliance Tech helped Ukrainian startup entrepreneurs integrate top French accelerator Euratechnologies. 
  • In November, TechUkraine Nataly Veremeeva met a variety of players on the French tech scene, from Paris to Bordeaux, to explore cooperation opportunities, and promoted Ukraine’s tech potential while speaking with the French media. 
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