This week, the first meeting of the new “Tech and Trade Council” between the European Commission and the U.S. authorities will be held in Pittsburgh. This long-awaited meeting was nearly postponed following recent tensions between the French government and the Biden administration after the cancellation of the Naval Group's Australian contract. In the context of a digital economy which is dominated by American stakeholders and the values of Silicon Valley, and shaken by profound geopolitical changes due to China’s rapid economic growth, Yann Lechelle, CEO of Scaleway, considers open, straightforward and effective transatlantic cooperation to be necessary, now more than ever, in the interests of both sides of the Atlantic.
A declaration of transatlantic interdependence - the United States needs Europe to be technologically strong
The United States and Europe are linked by an unwavering common destiny and a system of common values shaped by the last three centuries. Our two continents have never ceased to be a source of mutual inspiration both philosophically and politically; we must not forget that the spirit of European Enlightenment gave birth to the bold spirit of the drafters of the American Constitution before the American system became a model for many in Europe. This was especially true of Victor Hugo who spoke prophetically of the need to create a “United States of Europe”. We fundamentally share a common vision of the world through our attachment to democracy, the rule of law and to individual and entrepreneurial freedom.
At the end of the twentieth century, the United States went from a young nation with nascent ambitions, to a hyperpower dominating the international scene. However, this hegemony is being heavily eroded by China’s assertion on economic, commercial and, more recently, geopolitical fronts. The drop of the U.S. share of global GDP from 23.8% in 1999 to 18% in 2018 testifies to this. The inward-looking, or Trump-era “America first” attitude, and the end of the interventionism that had prevailed during the 2000s, are other telling signs of these profound changes at work. On the American side, the awareness of this loss of relative power has had major implications - relying on complementarity between allies, and putting an end to the policy of ‘going it alone’ which had largely dominated the American posture on the international stage for the last twenty years. In other words, there’s an echo of President Kennedy who, in 1962, said he was ready to “declare the interdependence” of the United States and Europe in order to build a “mutually beneficial” partnership.
Yet, if there is one sector that would lend itself perfectly to such a declaration of interdependence, and where the need for a mutually beneficial relationship is felt acutely, it is the digital sector. The health crisis accelerated the digitization of our societies and economies, and has made one thing painfully clear to us Europeans - we are extremely dependent on a handful of Californian tech giants from Silicon Valley. This technological ecosystem was carefully crafted in the 1970s, and is heavily bolstered by U.S. government public spending.
Beyond the damaging consequences that these oligopolistic dynamics are having on the economy and in terms of resilience, which American and European regulators are rightly putting under the spotlight with increasing insistence, this situation reveals above all that our digital world is governed by a value system that we have long struggled to understand, and which is the antithesis of the humanist values we proclaim as the legacy of our continent. GDPR was Europe’s regulatory response to reaffirm the protection of European citizens’ privacy in the digital space. The growing debate on the issues of strategic autonomy and digital sovereignty in the regulatory field also need to be properly understood by our American allies. For Europe, the objective is clearly not to trigger hostilities across the Atlantic, rather, our goal is to achieve a reciprocal rebalancing of current market relations. The current situation is not only hindering entrepreneurial freedom, open and fair competition, and trust in new digital technologies, but also the creation of an environment favorable to innovation and the creation of wealth.
Trust is key to cooperation. It is therefore essential that regular talks between European and American authorities begin quickly, within the framework of the Tech & Trade Council. This will allow for our views on many (thorny) issues to be laid out, for example with regard to the definition of technological standards in line with our respective values, ambitious shared objectives for the digital sector’s environmental footprint, securing our digital supply chains, cyber issues, cloud technology interoperability, governance, legal sovereignty, the circulation of personal and industrial data, export conditions for dual use technologies and software, foreign investment control, reciprocal access to public procurement contracts for SMEs.
While creating a coalition of transatlantic interests on these structuring matters may be crucial, we must also take care not to confuse speed with haste, and compromise with trade-offs. The legitimate desire of the European executive to make swift progress with its American counterparts must not take precedence over the promotion of our European values. What is more, this should also not prevent us from tirelessly defending European economic and industrial interests in the relevant technological and digital fields, whose strategic dimension is no longer under question. In short, this is a life-size test to channel our goal, as underlined by President Ursula von der Leyen on multiple occasions, of making a “geopolitical European Commission” not just a political rhetoric, but a reality.