A New Dawn of the EU-US Relationship in Digital and Tech Issues

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U.S. and European Union flags at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels (Francois Lenoir). Source: Reuters

With the election of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, the lawmakers of both the European Union and United States have expressed their desire for a new dawn in transatlantic ties. Hopes for a new EU-US relationship has emerged, especially in regard to digital and tech issues. As of recently, there are a considerable number of challenges that need to be addressed in this specific area.  

MEPs expressed their hopes for a new dawn of the EU-US relationship in digital and tech matters

On 20 January 2021, several MEPs welcomed the appointment of Joe Biden as the new president of the US. It was seen as a chance to reinforce the EU-US relationship to tackle common challenges. Particularly emphasizing the need to regulate tech giants. The MEP Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) emphasized that tech giants need clear rules as they should serve society.

Furthermore, Derk Jan Eppink (ECR, NL) expressed his concern about tech giants silencing public debate or politicians, claiming that:

“big tech companies abuse their dominant position. Their power must be broken”.

Finally, the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed her desire to cooperate with the US regarding regulations. “The unbridled political power of internet giants must be reined in” as their behavior must be dictated by law instead of “arbitrary decisions made by a Silicon Valley CEO”, she stated.

MEPs discussing current political developments in the US with the Presidents of the European Council and Commission. Source: European Parliament

What would this new tech alliance imply?

The primary aim of this new transatlantic agenda is to build up a global digital regulation. Hence, the EU, after having implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is now considering tackling other challenges in the tech industry. For instance, by implementing an e-Privacy Regulation addressing online marketing and cookies, the regulation of online platforms, AI ethics, and legislation to expand copyright online. 

In addressing these challenges in the digital and tech trade, the EU is seeking to cooperate with the US to develop common standards for emerging technologies. Also, to commit to better control and regulation of the digital world, currently ruled by a few tech ‘titans’ in Silicon Valley. 

As a consequence, von der Leyen proposed to create an EU-US common Technology Council, which was subsequently launched by both her and Biden during the EU-US Summit in Brussels on June 15, 2021.

By coordinating on tech issues throughout the common Trade and Technology Council (TTC) and by setting up the framework for digital regulation, the EU and the US aim at establishing real global standards that other countries such as Australia or Canada may follow. These standards will particularly take into account, as stated by Margrethe Vestager (the Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of digital policy), individuals’ privacy and dignity.

An agenda for US-EU cooperation on Big Tech regulation
European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and U.S. President Joe Biden before the EU-US summit at the European Council on June 15 2021. (Valeria Mongelli / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect).
Source: Brookings

What will be the impact of the EU-US relationship in digital and tech on the tech sector and digital giants?

The regulations, which have been proposed by the EU, will especially impact tech giants; which are all US-based companies. Such as Facebook, Apple, and Google. However, regarding the regulation of AI, the EU aims at putting in place restrictions that would not constrain technological advantages or advances.

Anti-China alliance?

This new EU-US tech alliance and the creation of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) to set up common regulatory standards in digital issues is also considered to be a strategic move to oppose China’s tech rise. Although the US is still the leader, the Chinese tech sector is rapidly growing – aiming to become a global superpower.

This gives another explanation to the cooperation between the EU and the US and their efforts to become global standard setters. In fact, as part of the renewed tech alliance between the EU and the US, it has been proposed to foster more investments and innovation across the two regions. By doing so, both the EU and the US will be able to compete against China’s top-down economic model and will try to fight back China’s expansion as a tech superpower.

  • Will China’s digital rise be opposed?
  • What will the EU-US tech alliance imply for small businesses?
  • Will the EU and the US achieve their goal of setting up global standards on tech and digital issues?

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