Friends reunited? How the US and EU spent the year reconnecting on tech


Best mates?


With a brand new president, more durable federal regulation of massive tech and a need to attract allies nearer in a problem to China, 2021 was presupposed to be the year that the US hit reset on its frosty relationship with Europe.


From the exterior, US and European residents alike have loads to realize from higher cooperation between their respective governments. Better commerce agreements imply digital applied sciences will probably be extra broadly accessible and extra frequent floor on competitors coverage has the potential to provide shoppers a more sensible choice of digital companies. Then there’s the promise of renewed information and privateness agreements, which can enable information to circulate extra effectively throughout the Atlantic. That could profit not solely client companies, but additionally medical analysis and offering higher protections for web customers all over the place.

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Eleven months later, not every thing the financial superpowers hoped for has come to go, however there have arguably been some main breakthroughs — the formation of a brand new tech council for one. The US has additionally been making efforts to claw again credibility following 4 years of failing to coordinate throughout the Trump period and delays on agreeing efficient home tech coverage, which Europe has responded to nicely.

Bart Gordon, a former congressman and chair of the House Science and Tech Committee, now serves as director of the Trans-Atlantic Business Council. He mentioned he is seen goodwill on each side to seek out frequent floor all through 2021. 


“There’s been a sea change,” he mentioned. “In the earlier administration, President Trump was in search of causes to attempt to choose a struggle, whereas on this administration, they’re in search of causes to attempt to work collectively.”

New year, new US angle to diplomacy

2021 definitely obtained off to an optimistic begin. Following Joe Biden’s election victory, there was an actual pleasure in Brussels and different European capitals, mentioned Tyson Barker, head of know-how and international affairs at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “They wished to benefit from this chance to seize this administration as a like-minded companion in tech management,” he mentioned.

Meanwhile, the US knew it needed to make amends if it wished to get its relationship with the EU again on observe. Donald Trump, Biden’s predecessor, had made no secret of his disdain of Europe’s makes an attempt to deliver US tech corporations to heel. “They had been inheriting 4 years of actual stress with the European Union,” Justin Sherman, fellow at the Atlantic Council, mentioned about the Biden administration. 

Europe can be apprehensive that Trump could run for president once more in 2024, added Gordon, that means that the two powers must make the most of the subsequent three years in creating confidence in each other. “There is a burden on the United States to essentially attain out and attempt to construct a few of these bridges again,” he mentioned.


That’s why it was unsurprising when the US prolonged a proverbial olive department by instantly appointing a lead negotiator to work on reestablishing information flows between the US and EU. This adopted a ruling by the EU’s prime courtroom in 2020 that invalidated Privacy Shield — the mechanism used to switch information between the two areas — because of surveillance fears.

Then in June, the EU and US fashioned the Trade and Technology Council, or TTC, which can try to seek out frequent floor on key tech coverage points. And in October, discussions led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development lastly resulted in a long-overdue worldwide settlement that may see large tech corporations pay fairer shares of tax in nations round the world.

These had been vital milestones however do not inform the full story. Even post-Trump, the US is not enamored with Europe’s tech guidelines, which have left Biden and his staff on the again foot coming into discussions. 

There has been a convergence in views between the US and Europe, mentioned Barker, “but it surely’s convergence on phrases which have truly been extra set in Europe.” Europe has repeatedly mentioned it seeks “alignment” with the US on tech guidelines, but it surely’s unlikely to budge a lot given how nicely established the bloc’s insurance policies are on tech.

Where Europe leads, will the US observe?

The final time a US administration tried to work with allies on tech coverage was throughout the Obama period, but it surely was a really totally different time for tech. The relationship between authorities and large tech was on good phrases, and the tide had not but turned to counsel it was something apart from a power for good. But throughout Trump’s flip at the helm, the US relationship with Europe soured and the scourge of disinformation and fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal sparked suspicion and scrutiny of tech giants.

It’s not as if time stood nonetheless in Europe throughout this period. In reality, this era noticed main advances in Europe placing guidelines in place for regulating tech giants and handing out multi-billion greenback antitrust fines to large tech corporations. In 2018, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, a landmark overhaul of the bloc’s privateness legal guidelines generally often known as GDPR, got here into impact. It was a part of a decade-long overhaul of digital guidelines. 

The EU moved even quicker in 2021, publishing draft regulation for AI and making main progress on two key items of laws, the Digital Markets Act (designed to sort out anti-competitive practices in tech) and the Digital Services Act (which focuses on moderation and unlawful content material). Both have been years in making.

“The sophistication of Europe’s strategy has been pushed by a decade plus of debate,” Barker mentioned. “Europe says, ‘it is nice that you just guys are right here, it is nice that there is been convergence on so many areas of tech regulation… however we won’t wait.'”

This urgency was solely additional exacerbated by the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, a violent act that resulted in 5 deaths. It spurred nations round the world to extra urgently sort out the virality of disinformation and different incendiary content material, Barker added. It additionally cemented the concept amongst European leaders that regulation holding tech platforms to account was overdue.

The progress that Europe has revamped the previous 4 to 5 years is making it tougher for the US to take a management function in discussions. And it hasn’t helped that Biden’s try to take the lead on digital policymaking was scuppered earlier this month when the US was pressured to postpone the launch of the Alliance for the Future of the Internet following pushback from digital rights teams. The proposal was an try to rally a coalition of democracies round shared ideas for an open internet.

Same room, similar web page? Not so quick

Joint efforts to deliver nations collectively have been extra profitable — the first assembly of the TTC went forward in Pittsburgh in September, with the second slated to happen in Europe in April subsequent year. 

But gathering folks collectively in a single room is only one step. Getting them to see eye to eye is one other. “There’s nonetheless a whole lot of roadblocks that the US and the EU hold hitting once they attempt and truly get to settlement,” Barker mentioned.

One such roadblock is a differing stance on privateness. Earlier this year, the US Trade Representative put out an announcement naming GDPR as a commerce barrier and claiming it exerted an excessive amount of management over tech corporations. But, regardless of niggles over some mechanisms of GDPR, the laws is quick approaching its fourth birthday and will not be going away anytime quickly.

Sherman mentioned the US is shedding out by not having its personal complete federal privateness regulation. Not solely is it a nationwide safety risk, but it surely hurts shoppers and places the US at a aggressive drawback as nations round the world,  China included, bolster their very own privateness safeguards.

The EU desires the US to reflect the privateness protections of GDPR so it could possibly confidently enable the information of European residents to securely circulate throughout borders. That’s unlikely to occur, however a compromise is fully doable, Sherman mentioned. “It’s sensible to say that we must always be capable to have stronger privateness guidelines that are not a duplicate of GDPR however that increase privateness protections in a method the EU can higher work with.”

The EU is also hoping to get the US on the similar web page relating to antitrust. It’s been pushing for the US to undertake frequent terminology for competitors instances — agreeing to make use of the phrase “gatekeeper” to explain large tech corporations, for instance. This is one thing to be careful for subsequent year, mentioned Barker, as it might mark “a serious shift in antitrust philosophy in the United States.”

Home and away

In each the US and Europe, there are two very separate conversations taking place round tech — the one taking part in out on dwelling turf and the one going down on the worldwide stage. Ideally, the latter would replicate the former, however in actuality there’s usually a doubtlessly dangerous disconnect between what is going on on in the two spheres.

Sherman pointed to an instance, specifically that the Biden administration’s progress in repairing its relationship with Europe could also be undermined by Congress’ failure to get its act collectively on privateness, antitrust enforcement and different points.

Even inside the White House there is a “plurality of views on a whole lot of tech questions” which can be not often represented in the nation’s engagement with the EU, Barker mentioned. There are areas the place the administration might intervene, resembling stopping regulation enforcement from shopping for citizen information or stopping the use of facial recognition algorithms identified to be racist and sexist.

“In observe, the US is shedding a whole lot of floor and credibility by making an attempt to maintain main on know-how when there are large know-how abuses domestically,” Sherman mentioned. The nation’s purpose of being a world advocate for democratic know-how is admirable, he added, however “we have to get our personal home with the intention to do this extra successfully.”

This plurality of views is hardly distinctive to the US. Despite the EU’s progress on new rules, particular person EU member states usually take very totally different views on tech points and typically will get very concerned and disagree with each other. Key figures inside the EU additionally often butt heads. Tensions between European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who’ve been working on the DSA and DMA, have been nicely documented).

These home disputes could even take longer to resolve than the high-level discussions taking place internationally. Even as home privateness laws discussions rumble on in the US, Gordon believes it desires to return to concord over Privacy Shield and he is hopeful of an announcement quickly.

Given that domestically, Europe and the US are grappling with many related points, there is not any purpose there should not be much more coordination than we’re seeing already, Gordon added. “Quite frankly, I wish to see extra dialogue between the European Parliament and the United States Congress,” he mentioned.

Looking forward

Just like the dysfunctional household gatherings many people will attend this vacation season, the US and the EU have introduced baggage and differing views as they attempt to work on key points. But finally, their historic loyalty to 1 one other and need to get alongside will doubtless see them by means of.

They do have shared pursuits — discovering frequent floor on relations with China, for instance.

They each have considerations about the financial development in the Chinese tech sector, the Chinese authorities’s technological attain and its affect over digital rights. The US can be clever to not body its whole tech agenda round China, Sherman mentioned. It reinforces the concept that US tech coverage is solely reactive, relatively than proactive. But having a typical rival undoubtedly brings Europe and the US collectively. 

There’s loads of hope amongst onlookers that 2022 might yield extra tangible outcomes than 2021, which has largely concerned a number of planning and agenda swapping. Even at the finish of the year, issues are altering quick. Just final week, Vestager was in Washington assembly with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Trade Representative Katherine Tai, which Gordon says ought to assist “jumpstart” a greater effort in the US to get organized. 

“There can be an actual will to attempt to have some low-hanging-fruit, fast victories, and I believe we’ll see that hopefully earlier subsequent year, simply to exhibit goodwill on each side,” he mentioned.

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