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Memo to Europe’s New Parliament: Embrace Tech

Dear European Parliamentarian,

Congratulations on your victory. As you prepare to move to Brussels, get ready to hear a chorus of warnings about the European Union’s fading competitiveness and digital policy. The continent’s per capita GDP has fallen a quarter below that of the United States.

The root causes are numerous, but one stands out — economic power depends more and more on digital power, not on Europe’s traditional industrial strengths. Unfortunately, the European Parliament’s attitude to digital is, at best, ambivalent. It over-regulates, making it difficult to comply with new laws, and flirts with counterproductive digital sovereignty. Instead of a new regulatory offensive, the Parliament needs to promote a regulatory pause, emphasize enforcement, and revive the faltering transatlantic digital alliance.

Let’s admit it: for most of you newcomers, tech and the transatlantic alliance do not represent priorities. Far-right parties targeted migration, even though Europe’s demography crisis requires an influx of immigrants. They won almost a quarter of the seats, up from a fifth in 2019, A backlash against the EU’s ambitious climate regulation Green Deal hurt the continent’s Green parties. They fell from 72 seats in the previous parliament to a predicted 52.

Tech was almost absent during the election campaign. Mainstream center-right and center-left parties (which still came out in front) have pressed hardest for digital regulation. Free-market pro-tech liberals struggled, seeing their representation tumble from 102 seats to 79. While the far right emphasizes the threat from foreigners, the center-right and center-left find their bogeyman in Big Tech. Both populisms are dangerous.

Over the past term, the Parliament has embraced tech regulation. It’s understandable. Until you acted, tech largely went unregulated, even as it became the crucial motor of the modern economy. While the Internet democratized access to information, it also served up a nasty cocktail of disinformation, bullying, and illegal content, from counterfeit products to hate speech. Big Tech has become, arguably, too big.

In response, the European Union has passed a tsunami of new regulations. The General Data Protection Regulation set a gold standard for privacy protection. The Digital Services Act increases the responsibility for Internet platforms to combat illegal content. Digital Markets Act attempts to reign in “gatekeepers” blocking access to digital markets. The full list of new regulations is overwhelming. In contrast, the US has failed to reach a consensus on a single major piece of tech legislation.

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Although a broad political consensus exists in Europe about the need to corral tech, your parliamentary predecessors often approved impractical measures. In the EU, the European Commission proposes legislation and you review and amend it. Often, Parliament proposed impractical amendments, designed to score political points rather than allow effective enforcement.

A good example is messaging interoperability. When debating the Digital Markets Act, parliamentarians came up with the idea of forcing Meta’s WhatsApp to become  “interoperable” with other messaging services such as Signal. No one had an idea of how such interoperability could work in practice. Both European Commission officials and messaging services have struggled to implement the requirement — and so far, no competing messaging services have, to my knowledge, chosen to exchange messages with WhatsApp.

The next Parliament’s priority should be enforcement of existing regulations, not dreaming up new restrictions. Europe regulates. It struggles to enforce. While parliament has no enforcement powers, you can encourage the European Commission regulators to define the many inconsistencies and ambiguities in the new legislation.

A polarized parliament could make it difficult to pass EU legislation on issues ranging from climate and immigration to industrial strategy and defense. For tech, that regulatory pause could be productive. You can and should discourage the Commission from pursuing additional rules, such as plans for a new “Digital Fairness” package. The Digital Services Act already covers most of these concerns. You can and should continue to provide a check on national (mostly right-wing) governments’ abuse of digital surveillance.

Most of all, parliament should push back against misguided notions of digital sovereignty. Yes, Europe needs to build up its tech prowess. No, Europe shouldn’t close itself off to US and Asian innovation. European adoption of cloud computing already lags; requiring governments to use European cloud providers will only further slow adoption.

While opposing counterproductive protectionism, the new Parliament should promote transatlantic ties. The main vehicle for tech cooperation is the Trade and Technology Council. It has floundered. At present, it only connects the executive branch to the executive branch, the Biden Administration with the European Commission. The Council should be expanded to include a European Parliament-US Congress dialogue.

This dialogue will not be smooth. As nationalists, many of you are skeptical of US power. Some of you from Europe’s far-right and far-left parties have close ties with Russia and China. US political turbulence is bound to rise in the run-up to November’s presidential elections. A new Trump administration would be hostile to its traditional European allies. Even European-friendly President Joseph Biden has provoked European anger with a protectionist agenda.

The next few years are sure to be turbulent. But Europe must signal that its own self-interest requires embracing, not rejecting, the US and tech.

Bill Echikson is a non-resident Senior Fellow at CEPA and editor of Bandwidth.

Bandwidth is CEPA’s online journal dedicated to advancing transatlantic cooperation on tech policy. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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CEPA’s online journal dedicated to advancing transatlantic cooperation on tech policy.
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The post Memo to Europe’s New Parliament: Embrace Tech appeared first on CEPA.


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