The Jardin des Tuileries was cordoned off, a huge marquee erected and Californian wine was served for dinner at the Louvre. Paris rolled out the red carpet for the titans of Silicon Valley, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt, to introduce France’s latest contribution to global summitry, the “e-G8”.
The e-G8, which ended on Wednesday but which the French hope will become a yearly gathering, has been billed as a way for the internet generation to make its voice heard at the highest level of global politics. The crowd-sourced wisdom generated there is to be taken directly to Deauville today for the G8 proper.
At the invitation of the French president, the self-styled “disruptors” descended on the banks of the Seine, most – with the exception of Mr Zuckerberg – even ditching the T-shirts and hoodies for business suits to reflect the new authority being heaped on their tweets and Facebook status updates.
The really hot ticket was to join the group of 20 who were wined, dined and charmed by Nicolas Sarkozy at Tuesday’s lunch at the Elysée palace. Those invited included Ben Verwaayen of Alcatel-Lucent and Thomson Reuters’ Tom Glocer.
“He seemed very eager to listen and recognised that bad legislation would be worse than no legislation,” said Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder. The 27-year-old Mr Zuckerberg described his meeting with Mr Sarkozy on Wednesday as “fun”.
Organised at a few weeks’ notice by a team led by Publicis chief Maurice Levy, the e-G8 took many guests by surprise. Many were confused about the events’ agenda, given only the tagline “The internet: accelerating growth”.
“The interesting thing is that nobody knows why they are here but everybody came,” said Michael Wolff, editorial director at Adweek. “People at this high level want to play in the political arena. It is an invitation from the president of France. For Sarkozy, from a PR standpoint, it has been brilliant.”
Internet advocates’ relationship with the French legislature has often been rocky, especially following the controversial “three strikes” law to tackle piracy. Any hope that Mr Sarkozy’s stance might moderate faded with his opening speech, which warned of the “anarchy” online if national laws continue to be ignored.
“We won’t take steps that would damage growth in your industry,” he said. “But you cannot escape a minimum set of rules.”
And as the tent steamed up under the sun and the batteries on guests’ iPhones drained, the enthusiasm for the e-G8 waned. Old arguments about protecting copyright online were reheated but remained unresolved.
At the end of the event, 10 tech titans took to the stage to settle on a final set of proposals to take to Deauville, based on summaries of all the sessions. They struggled.
Resigned, perhaps, to the downside of greater government involvement in their industry, one borrowed phrase captured best the forum’s hopes: “Do no harm.”
“We should insist on minimalism,” said Lawrence Lessig, Harvard law professor. “The future of the internet is not here, it was not invited ... The least we can do is preserve the architecture of this network that protects this future that is not here.”