May 23. 2024. 8:08

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The Brief – EU tech policy moves towards defence and competitiveness

A subtle but unmistakable change is rippling through tech policy in Brussels. The discussion is moving towards a place where tech is a tool for sovereignty, while competitiveness in global markets is the top priority.

A leaked document of the EU’s draft strategic agenda for the 2024-2029 mandate showcases this shift: Technology issues receive little attention, except in the context of defence, reduced strategic dependencies, and industrial development.

Cybersecurity and disinformation also appear in the document, as threats to democracy in the cyber domain but also through disinformation, are ever-increasing.

Artificial intelligence also made the list, with a call to “explore the untapped potential of data” for developing “game-changing” technologies.

The draft seen by Euractiv, created on 27 March, predates the most recent exchanges between the EU leaders.

Previous paradigm

The last five years saw the passage of major laws looking to rein in the power of big tech companies, many of them based in the US.

The Digital Services, Digital Markets, and Artificial Intelligence Acts were fundamental tools for protecting individuals and democracies. They are not without their critics.

But everything changed on 24 February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine and Europe’s sense of safety was profoundly shaken.

Unsurprisingly, this has meant seismic policy shifts in every respect, with defence topping most lists of priorities.

However, the global tech landscape was already changing before then.

As the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai admitted in Brussels last week, we are now in a multipolar world.

China and India are quickly catching up to the US and Europe when it comes to tech, and in some cases, they are leaps and bounds ahead.

Europe is keenly aware of its dependence on other countries, particularly China, for the supply of technologies critical for the digital and green agendas, such as semiconductors and solar panels.

Similarly, several measures to boost investment in strategic technologies in the EU are now in force, inspired by a similar industrial policy in Canada, Japan, the US, and the UK.

One of them, originally proposed in the summer of 2023, is an initiative to establish “a new platform for strategic technologies for Europe” to increase investment in critical domains like biotech, quantum computing, and semiconductors.

The platform will take some budget from other areas, as well as 10 billion under the EU’s seven-year budget, the so-called multiannual financial framework.

This puts the EU in an awkward place on the global stage. All major powers are now competing over the same domains – and contracts. For example, the EU Chips Act has its almost direct equivalents in the US and China.

For its part, the EU’s biggest ally, Washington, has made great strides in boosting its own competitiveness.

Just last week, the Biden administration announced a $6.6 billion investment in Taiwan’s TSMC, the largest chipmaker in the world, to ramp up the production of chips on American soil.

In contrast, Europe is burdened by its past. Many of its bureaucrats will be busy implementing the plethora of regulations that the bloc has created, possibly leaving little time for industrial policy.

The Roundup

Belgium’s federal prosecutor has launched an investigation against members of the European Parliament allegedly paid by Moscow, and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo will bring the issue of Russian interference to the top of next week’s leaders’ summit, he said on Friday.

EU Prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi should keep her “eyes wide open” when it comes to the implementation of the Greek Recovery Fund, in light of a new investigation over alleged fraud, a leading opposition lawmaker told Euractiv.

As the EU moves to renew trade liberalisation with Ukraine, Budapest announced on Thursday it would tighten controls on the import of those agricultural products – regardless of their origin – for which it unilaterally banned imports from Ukraine in 2023.

European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton announced his wish for a new EU Nuclear Technologies Act, as part of efforts to develop an integrated nuclear industry in Europe.

For more policy news, check out this week’s Tech Brief, Economy Brief, and Agrifood Brief.

Look out for…

  • Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson meets with Ukraine’s Energy Minister German Galushchenko on Monday.
  • Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski receives Slovak Agriculture Minister Richard Takáč on Monday.
  • Informal meeting of energy ministers Monday-Tuesday.