I thought this had died quietly years ago … but apparently not. The EU has just approved €99m to aid France in the development of Quaero. Originally a Franco-German project to build a European (i.e. non-American) Google-killer, this was a pet project of President Mitterand. The Germans quickly saw sense and bailed out but, it seems, the EU has ridden to the rescue (the same EU, incidentally, which earlier this week approved Google’s takeover of DoubleClick).
It’s not, I guess, a large sum in the European scheme of things (a mere £1 for every man, women and child in the UK) and Europe definitely needs to build its IT skills and industry. However, I cannot see how pouring public money into pet projects ever works, particularly when there already exist extremely successful, free-market alternatives. Google is successful because people use it, because it delivers results. Microsoft and Yahoo! with deep pockets are in a battle royal with Google to beat them at their game. Other, lesser offerings have fallen by the wayside: Alta Vista, ask.com and many, many others. What is the sense of throwing public money at an already well-functioning marketplace? Better to ask why such solutions are not already percolating up out of European industry and go solve that problem: lower taxes, lower bureaucracy, higher skills etc etc.