Plan Calcul

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Not to be confused with Plankalkül.

Plan Calcul was a French governmental program to promote a national or European computer industry and associated research and education activities.

The plan was approved in July 1966 by President Charles de Gaulle, in the aftermath of two key events that made his government worry about French dependence on the US computer industry".[1] First, the United States denied export licenses for American-made IBM and CDC computers to the French Commissariat à l'énergie atomique in order to prevent it from perfecting its H bomb.[1][2][3]:21 Meanwhile, in 1964, General Electric acquired a majority of Compagnie des Machines Bull, the largest French computer manufacturer, which had the second highest market share in France, after IBM. Following this partial takeover,[4] known as "Affaire Bull",[5] GE-Bull dropped two Bull computers from its product line.[2][6]

Responsibility for administering the plan was given to a newly created government agency, Délégation à l'informatique, answering directly to the prime minister.[2]

As part of the program, in December 1966, the Compagnie internationale pour l'informatique (CII) was established as a manufacturer of commercial and scientific computers, initially under licence from Scientific Data Systems. The new company was intended to compete not only in the process control and military market, where its staff was already seasoned, but also in the office computing sector of the French market, where IBM and Bull were dominant at the time.[1] The plan enacted government subsidies for CII between 1967 and 1971, and was reconducted for another four years.[7] A minor side of the plan was devoted to peripherals, while CII's main parent company, Thomson-CSF, received government support to develop its semiconductor plants and R & D. Overall, while CII mainframes benefitted from preferential procurement by the French government, the Plan Calcul left peripherals, components and small computers makers compete on the free market. The same went for software companies, which were already thriving in France.

On the research side, the program also led to the creation of L'Institut de recherche en informatique et en automatique (IRIA) in 1967, which later became INRIA.[4] It was accompanied with a vast educational effort in programming and computer science.[8]

In the late 1960s, CII shipped its new, internally designed mainframes (Iris 50 and Iris 80), and developed a mini-computer, Mitra 15, which became a commercial success in the following decade. The company also produced competitive magnetic peripherals in cooperation with CDC.

In 1971, CII began negotiations with Siemens and Philips to form a joint European company, Unidata, which shipped its first computers in 1974. Yet a new President of the Republic was elected then, former Finance minister Giscard d'Estaing, who was a strong opponent of the Plan Calcul; meanwhile, CII's sleeping partner, CGE-Alcatel, woke up to oppose the domination of its archrival Siemens over the European computer industry. Unidata was terminated and CII was absorbed into Honeywell-Bull in 1976.


  1. ^ a b c Robert W. Crandall, Kenneth Flamm, Changing the rules: technological change, international competition, and regulation in communications, Brookings Institution Press, 1989, ISBN 0-8157-1596-X, p. 285
  2. ^ a b c Wayne Sandholtz, High-Tech Europe: the politics of international cooperation, University of California Press, 1992, ISBN 0-520-07313-4, p. 76
  3. ^ (French) Alain Beltran, Pascal Griset, Histoire d'un pionnier de l'informatique: 40 ans de recherche à l'Inria, EDP Sciences, 2007, ISBN 2-86883-806-5
  4. ^ a b (French) Emmanuel Laurentin interview with Pierre Mounier-Kuhn (26 Sep 2006) 1966 : La France lance le plan Calcul, France Culture, La fabrique de l'histoire (series)
  5. ^ Richard Coopey, Information technology policy: an international history, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-924105-8, p. 9
  6. ^ Pierre Mounier-Kuhn, “From General Electric to Bull: A case of managerial knowledge transfer (1956-1970)”, Entreprises et Histoire, June 2014, n° 75, p. 42-56 (
  7. ^ Kenneth Flamm, Creating the computer: government, industry, and high technology, Brookings Institution Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8157-2849-2, p. 156
  8. ^ (French) Pierre Mounier-Kuhn, L’Informatique en France, de la seconde guerre mondiale au Plan Calcul. L’émergence d’une science, Paris, PUPS, 2010, ISBN 978-2-84050-654-6.