Chirac Unveils High-Tech Industrial Plan

President Jacques Chirac on April 24 unveiled plans to invest in six major high-tech projects -- including a European rival to the search engine Google -- in a bid to secure France's place as a world leader in industrial innovation.

A Franco-German search engine called "Quaero", personally backed by Chirac as a counter to U.S domination on the Internet, is the most high-profile of the six projects selected by France's Agency for Industrial Innovation (AII).

Other schemes -- focused on future environmental challenges -- include an advanced light metro train called "NeoVal", a plan to produce plastics from starch, and a project called "Homes" that aims to slash household electricity use by 20%.

A fifth project is for a hybrid diesel-electric car, already under development by the French car maker PSA Peugeot, while the last involves a technique for broadcasting high-definition television to mobile phones.

Chirac said the projects were chosen to "focus on essential technological challenges for our future."

With them, he said, France hopes to "invent the processes, applications and products of the future."

Carried out over three to seven years, the first five projects are to cost 600 million euros (US$750 million), with PSA Peugeot's hybrid vehicle to be funded separately.

France's AII, created last year with an endowment of 1.7 billion euros, is to cover around half the costs in the form of subsidies and loans, with companies expected to match the state funds. In addition to the first six, the AII is examining some 30 other projects and will see its budget jump to two billion euros next year, Chirac said.

Big industry players backing the projects include France Telecom and French equipment maker Alcatel, as well as Germany's Siemens, Thomson and Deutsche Telekom, along with research institutes in both countries.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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