EU-US tech consultation stifles intentions

Trade and Technology Council tries hard to unite EU and US.. against China

How can you play chess simultaneously on boards at home and abroad? This question arises following the recent meeting of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC), the new transatlantic trade and Technology Council. In Pittsburgh this week, members of the European Commission and the US administration discussed joint agreements on artificial intelligence, data flows and export controls on technology that should not fall into the wrong hands. The summit also had to breathe new life into the relationship between the allies, although this is more difficult than expected.

The draft outcome of the council leaked out before it was clear whether the meeting would go ahead at all. The French projected their anger at the Australian submarine order lost to the US on the Americans. France did not cancel the TTC, but under pressure from Paris the declaration of intent on microchips was watered down.

Tony Gardner, former US ambassador to the EU, tweeted drily: “just read the communiqué of the Trade and Technology Council. In any case, the meeting took place. There is no doubt that much needs to be done in the future to get meat back on the bones.”

As soon as the plans for coordination become more concrete, tensions between international agreements and national legislation will also become more prominent. After all, better coordination and Joint Action do not detract from the right of both the US and the EU to make their own legislation, as is now stated in the official statement. In practice, that will start to grind: it is already doing so. For example, there is no US equivalent to the General Data Protection Regulation, and European judges have twice annulled bilateral agreements on privacy. New negotiations to find an alternative have not yet produced results.

For the EU, the TTC is an arena to smooth out disputes with the US and make agreements that also bind powerful companies. In the US, cooperation with Europeans is not a high priority in itself. A great deal of attention is paid to Asia, especially China, which the Americans are looking at through national security glasses. Few subjects can unite deeply divided America, but Beijing can. The search for a common approach with the EU is therefore seen by Washington primarily as a move in a long series of movements aimed at China.

To make a stand against that country, we need clarity about data policy. After all, the large amounts and types of data with which artificial intelligence is trained also influence the accuracy and success of its applications. Whether information is collected, stored and processed in a Democratic or authoritarian manner has major implications for Security, Geopolitics and Human Rights.

For example, an important question remains in the air following the trade and Technology Council: does the joint fear of the Chinese advance in setting standards and steering technology lead to sufficient transatlantic critical mass, or do the differences remain too large?

Fighting against China’s anti-democratic technology practices will be difficult if the EU and the US, despite their intention to consult and coordinate on all kinds of issues, continue to move in different directions with their legislation. Without political will, fine diplomatic messages will not become a hard policy.

Every other week Marietje Schaake writes a column on technology, policy and economics.

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