U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council: An important moment for EU's strategic autonomy
Bradley Blankenship
U.S. President Joe Biden (C) arrives with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission (L) for an EU leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 15, 2021. /Getty

U.S. President Joe Biden (C) arrives with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission (L) for an EU leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 15, 2021. /Getty

Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh will go ahead as per schedule on September 29, the European Commission confirmed amid speculations of the event's cancellation over a recent spat between the United States and France.

Draft memos leaked to various media outlets suggest that the two sides are quite split on key trade and technology areas, but might the European Union (EU) be poised to lead the conversation this time around?

Recent events suggest that this is entirely possible, as a read-out from a recent phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron made clear.

Buried in this joint statement was one extremely interesting sentence, "The United States also recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO."

Macron has long criticized NATO, famously saying that the organization is going brain dead and that Europe needs to think of itself as a geopolitical power. He has since been more concrete, saying that Europe should start to handle its own defense independently without taking signals from Washington – though this was when Donald Trump was at the helm of affairs in the U.S.

The latest spat between the U.S. and France over a secretly negotiated nuclear submarine deal with Australia that angered Paris, however, saw France describe the situation as no different than how things went with Trump and only deepened French leadership's call for EU strategic autonomy.

The clear read of the background leading up to this latest spat, how it played out and how it was apparently resolved between Washington and Paris is that the U.S. side acquiesced to Macron's desire to see Europe deepen its strategic autonomy. While there is certainly nothing concrete officially in the works, there's little doubt that hinting at this in a joint statement gives Paris – and Europe itself – significant leverage in further negotiations with Washington.

That's why the upcoming U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh could be an extraordinary opportunity for the EU to assert itself on key issues, even if the U.S. side wants to hijack the forum with anti-Chinese sentiment.

For starters, the EU could certainly use this opportunity to pressure the U.S. side into modernizing its regulations on Big Tech companies. A draft memo seen by Reuters suggests that this will be a major issue, but it seems unlikely that a unified approach will be nearly as ambitious as the EU side would like under the status quo.

As of now, both sides can agree on their need to combat anti-competitive practices and moderate content – but industry groups in Washington are staunchly opposed to adopting European-style data regulations, saying that harmonizing regulations with the EU would destroy the industry and instead that both sides should align on China.

The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City, U.S., September 24, 2021. /Getty

The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City, U.S., September 24, 2021. /Getty

The EU side should not be bullied by American lobbyists and scapegoat China, and instead should continue its push to adopt common transatlantic data regulation standards or other regulations that concretely limit the power of American-based Big Tech companies over society. After all, this is a clear national security concern – as the United States itself demonstrates.

Lack of regulations in that country has spurred irreversible damage, amplifying the country's critical-mass political polarization and serving as a lightning rod for misinformation related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. America's tech de-regulation threatens everyone, including itself, Europe and the rest of the world.

Trade is also an important issue, which ties into this. The U.S. side has been adamant about ideologically driven protectionist policies against Chinese companies, hoping to cut off trade in digital services with China. But the EU wants to expand its business in China on a level playing field, which is clearly at odds with the ideological language Washington is trying to insert in these policies.

Likewise, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is a major issue for both sides. But actions by Washington, such as its attempt to ban the sale of high-tech Dutch microchip printing technology to China in 2020, would intensify counterproductive trade wars that would inevitably backfire.

On this issue, the EU should use its leverage to adopt a strategy that fosters global industry cooperation and helps solve structural issues within the supply chain while curtailing costly and ineffective confrontation.

Leaders from both sides of the Atlantic will certainly have their work cut out for them navigating these messy and contentious issues, but this is a crescendo moment for the EU to argue its most important agenda items to the U.S. side.

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