News / Europe

France Hosts Internet Forum Before G8 Summit

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures, during a e-G8 conference, gathering Internet and information technologies leaders and experts, in Paris, May 24, 2011.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures, during a e-G8 conference, gathering Internet and information technologies leaders and experts, in Paris, May 24, 2011.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has hailed the Internet in transforming the world and driving recent Arab protests.  Sarkozy launched an Internet forum before a G8 summit later this week.

President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke to an audience of key movers and shakers in the digital universe, gathered in Paris for the first so-called "E-G8" forum.  Conceived by the French president, the two-day meeting will debate the Internet's role in transforming politics, the economy and social services, and whether or not it should be regulated.

Sarkozy described the Internet as a revolution that has changed many things, including driving the ongoing protests in the Arab world.

Sarkozy said the revolutions this year in Tunisia and Egypt took many by surprise, and helped changed foreign policy.  He said they influenced France's decision to intervene in Ivory Coast and in Libya.

While praising the Internet's role in empowering people and economies, the French leader also talked about the importance of responsibility on matters like piracy and child pornography.  Whether to regulate the Internet is a matter of hot debate, with countries like China and North Korea censoring the net and others like France pushing for copyrights and other regulations.

The 1,500 delegates attending the Paris forum include the heads of Google, E-Bay and social media site Facebook.  French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde noted the World Wide Web is not only boosting developed economies, but also developing ones, by helping transfer remittances.

"When you look at the amount and volume of remittances to Africa, it is bigger than the volume of aid, development money that is paid to African agencies, governments and companies," said Lagarde.  "So it is a huge amount."

Indian telecommunications heavyweight Sunil Bharti Mittal talked about the role of mobile phones in delivering health care in poorer nations.

"M-health, rather than e-health, holds a great promise for countries like India," noted Mittal.  "The rural health services are in an absolutely broken condition today.  There are many, many things that can now be done on mobile phones or the benefit of large masses of the population."

Later this week, leaders of the Internet forum are expected to meet with heads of state at the G8 summit in the French city of Deauville, in what Sarkozy hopes will launch an ongoing dialogue between the two.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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