Brussels According to the program, the aim is to strengthen mutual investment links and to coordinate the regulation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In fact, there is a lot more at stake when the kick-off meeting of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) takes place on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
It is arguably the most important economic policy project that Europeans and Americans have pulled together since the failure of the negotiations on a transatlantic free trade area in 2016. It is an attempt to repair the damaged partnership and to find a basis for cooperation between Europe and the USA again.
The EU delegation will be led by Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and her counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis. Before their departure, the two outlined the expectations of Europeans in an interview with selected media. The past few days have been “challenging”, Vestager admitted. The European side feels solidarity with France: “But we are also convinced that the meeting is a very good signal.”
Vestager brings up what has kept Brussels in suspense over the past week. Out of outrage over the new Aukus Pacific Pact, which the United States signed without consulting Paris and which is costing France a lucrative submarine deal, the French government demanded that the meeting be postponed.
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But with all understanding of the annoyance of France, most of the other EU countries wanted to stick to the appointment with the USA. The Atlantic-oriented Vestager and Dombrovskis also see little point in making TTC the pawn in a geopolitical dispute. The project is a European idea, explained Vestager.
EU emphasizes strategic ties to the USA
As a “global leader” in trade and regulatory issues, the EU could play to its strengths in this forum. Dombrovskis emphasized the “geopolitical significance” of the consultations with the Americans, saying that TTC was a vehicle for setting “standards and rules for the 21st century”. The USA and the EU are “allies, partners and friends”, emphasized Dombrovskis. “Friends occasionally make mistakes”, but that should not “cloud our judgment of where our strategic bond lies”.
The USA, too, which is directing its foreign policy focus to the Pacific out of concern about China’s growing power, wants to de-escalate tensions with Europe. Vestager and Dombrovskis are received accordingly in Pittsburgh. In addition to Trade Envoy Katherine Tai and Minister of Economic Affairs Gina Raimondo, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken also takes part in the talks.
The venue has been chosen with care. Pittsburgh was once a center of American heavy industry. The transformation was tough, but it was successful. Today Pittsburgh is a location of the knowledge economy and a model for economic renaissance in the American rust belt. “Pittsburgh illustrates the purpose of the meeting,” Vestager said. The city has managed to leave a fossil fuel past behind and transform itself into a “low-emission high-tech economy”, she praised.
But the recognizable efforts to improve sentiment ahead of the economic summit are unlikely to be enough to resolve the fundamental conflicts. The disappointment in Europe with the policies of President Joe Biden’s US administration, which European diplomats are already interpreting as a continuation of Donald Trump’s “America first” doctrine, is too deep.
At first, the export barriers to medical goods angered Europeans. Then the hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and now the Aukus deal concluded by France with Australia and Great Britain shocked the Europeans. In addition, there is the unresolved dispute over US tariffs on steel and aluminum.
On the US side, on the other hand, there is frustration at the ambivalent attitude of Europeans towards China. From Washington’s point of view, the authoritarian Chinese regime threatens not only the global supremacy of the USA, but also democracy and free markets as a whole with its pursuit of technological leadership.
Therefore, they want to win the EU as a partner for a containment policy. But the Europeans are reluctant. Vestager and Dombrovskis made it clear that they do not see TTC as an anti-China pact. “Our ambition is not limited to rejecting a third party,” said Vestager.
However, the final declaration, a draft has been submitted to the Handelsblatt, mentions “unfair trading practices, especially those that originate from non-market economies and undermine the world trading system”. This formulation is clearly aimed at China.
With the mutual exchange of information on the control of exports and the verification of investors, which Europeans and Americans want to decide in Pittsburgh, they are sending a signal to Beijing: Together, the Western partners want to prevent critical technologies from falling to the Chinese regime.
Most recently, the covert takeover of a military drone manufacturer by Chinese investors was exposed in Italy. A case that awakens memories of the takeover of the German robot company Kuka and again illustrates how strategically the Chinese are proceeding in order to obtain coveted know-how. The US government should be pleased with the agreement to work together more closely to prevent such takeovers without calling into question the fundamental openness of the European and American economies. For now, at least.
Europeans stand up for civil rights
The Europeans, on the other hand, point out that the “Pittsburgh Declaration” bears their signature in areas such as AI and competition control. Because, according to the EU, the danger to democracy does not only come from China, but also from abuse in democratic countries themselves.
“Democracies need to be clear about the effects of new technologies so that digitization does not undermine democracy,” said Vestager, referring to the EU’s legislative proposal on AI regulation. “We want to ban biometric mass surveillance and social scoring systems because we believe that these practices should not have a home in a democracy.”
It was precisely on this issue that there were good discussions with the Americans who had similar concerns. This is one of the reasons why it is wrong to narrow the talks to China, said Vestager: “There are also things in our own countries that we want to change.”
More: Despite submarine dispute: Transatlantic tech alliance can start