Interview with Cédric O, Secretary of State for the French Digital Transition

In the context of the new regulations concerning the French crypto industry, we interviewed Cédric O, Secretary of State for Digital Transition and Electronic Communications. How does he perceive blockchain technology and its development in France?

How do you perceive blockchain technology?

Our societies and our economies are subject to significant and sometimes contradictory trends. Firstly, by extremely intense technological competition, which sees the whole world engaged in a kind of „arms race“, where the outcome will determine a large part of the prosperity but also the independence of the world’s major economies, especially Europe. Blockchain technologies are part of these disruptive technologies, with considerable areas of applications, from financial matters to energy, from food processing to cultural and creative industries. This is why it is important for Bruno Le Maire and myself that France is at the forefront. But like any innovation, blockchain is a dialectic between innovation and regulation. Innovation is built and grows by breaking with existing frameworks. But in order to thrive, it needs trust, and therefore needs to be regulated. The blockchain is still in the chiaroscuro, and this dialectic can be observed everywhere in the world. The knife edge is even more complicated to find because the increasing complexity of the problems is a challenge on its own for the authorities. But I am optimistic.

This Wednesday, December 9, 2020, France has made a new clampdown regarding crypto assets. How do you justify this toughening?

Crypto assets expose us to increasing risks of money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF). The dismantlement, last September, of a Daesh financing network combining crypto assets and electronic money transactions is a reminder of this reality. This is not a problem for France only: successive declarations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the G7 and the G20 have also highlighted the increased risk of criminal misappropriation of crypto assets in the context of the health crisis and beyond. It is in this context that we have taken the ordinance of December 9, which was drawn up in consultation with the actors but also the national representative. The landing point strengthens controls, it’s true, but I would like to remind you that this measure will be completed in a decree that relaxes the conditions for using remote identification devices. The Ministry’s teams are in very regular contact with the ANSSI, the National Assembly and solution providers to ensure that [virtual asset service providers] VASPs will have services that meet their needs as early as this spring. We have therefore tried to find a balanced solution that meets both the security emergency and the operational concerns of the involved parties.wi

Europe is not yet in harmony on these policies; do you understand that some startups are seeking to delocalize to countries that are less restrictive towards crypto assets? And how do you intend to convince them to stay?

First of all, I would like to remind that France is far from being the only European Union country to have gone beyond the fifth anti-money laundering directive when it comes to cryptos. Quite the opposite. Germany and Great Britain have also decided to subject to the ML/TF the entities that offer crypto-crypto services. Denmark is also in the process of adopting such a regulation.

It seems to me that we need to take a holistic approach of the problem. I am the first, sometimes, to protest against the strict rules governing the exercise of financial activities in France. But I can’t help but notice that these rules are also what underpin the competitiveness of Paris, which is part of our country’s strength and at the same time allows us to stay ahead of Frankfurt when it comes to welcoming activities from London. This credibility is an advantage when it comes to creating very large international firms.

In addition, I would like to underline that all European players who wish to target the French market will be required to register with the AMF under the same conditions and deadlines as players established in France. This provision of the Pacte law, recalled by the ordinance of December 9, aims to restore similar competitive conditions on the French market for all companies. There is a strong awareness between Member States and the European Commission on the need to implement everywhere the same rules and procedures applicable to crypto industry. The Minister of Economy, Finance and Recovery will make concrete suggestions to the European Commission to extend the monitoring system established in France.

I would also like to mention that France is one of the rare countries to have a clear legal, fiscal and accounting framework for all the participants in the ecosystem. Furthermore, when possible, we have opted to implement optional measures, such as a visa for ICOs or approval for digital asset service providers. Only those who wish to do so can take the necessary steps. I also want to note that the ecosystem knows how to find high-quality contacts within the administration and supervisors (AMF and ACPR) who can support them in their projects. Finally, France has taken the lead in regulating these activities, which means that it is now influential in European discussions. There is a collective interest in French public authorities and private operators being able to be the driving force behind European regulations.