French leader in California for tech talks

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - France’s president met with Silicon Valley and government leaders in the heart of tech country Wednesday, just days after a French regulator hit Google with an embarrassing regulatory slap and after years of efforts to wrest more taxes from tech firms.

President Francois Hollande was greeted at San Francisco City Hall by Mayor Ed Lee, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz as school children waved French and American flags on the stairway of the rotunda.

More than 300 French companies have offices in California, and a large portion of U.S. investments in France are from California, Hollande told the crowd at a City Hall reception in his honor.

“It is here in California that the world of tomorrow is being invented,” Hollande said. “For centuries, France has wanted to change the world. Together, we can.”

Later in the day, Hollande and members of his cabinet had lunch at a French restaurant with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and Twitter chairman and co-founder Jack Dorsey.

Most of the luncheon was closed to the media, and no details of the discussions were released.

Hollande points to the U.S. tech industry as an economic success that he hopes to replicate at home. But he’s also been among the leaders of Europe’s fight to prevent what the continent sees as a systematic attempt by tech firms to invade privacy and avoid paying their corporate fair share.

Hollande later met with French entrepreneurs and inaugurated an office in the gritty Dogpatch neighborhood aimed at supporting their efforts to gain a foothold in Silicon Valley. That meeting also was mostly private.

Marie Buhot-Launay, who heads marketing for the office, said staff members were giddy that Hollande was throwing government support behind the venture, given the intense competition French innovators face from competitors in Germany, Finland and Ireland.

“For French entrepreneurs, the American dream still exists and especially in Silicon Valley,” she said. “This new support will really help them accelerate their growth, and help us scale up the services we provide and build a larger network of mentors and investors in France and in the U.S.”

The French leader visited the region during his three-day state visit to the U.S. He was also scheduled to tour a science museum and mingle with French expats at a hotel gala before returning to Paris later Wednesday.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have faced scrutiny by European regulators over privacy, hate speech and data protection issues.

Over the weekend, Google posted a statement on its French website noting that France’s digital privacy watchdog found the search giant in violation of rules on ensuring data privacy. In late 2012, Twitter agreed to pull racist and anti-Semitic tweets under a pair of French hash tags after a Jewish group threatened to sue the social network for running afoul of national laws against hate speech.

Hollande’s advisers insist his first priority was to meet leading dynamos of American Internet innovation, even though the president would press France’s principles on issues such as privacy, taxes and hate speech.

Burton Lee, a lecturer in European Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Stanford University engineering school, said socialist Hollande “does not seem to deeply understand technology-based innovation, entrepreneurship or product design.”

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