On May 16, the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union hosted the second meeting of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) in Paris, almost a year after the launch of this new transatlantic alliance on trade and shared economy between the United States and the European Union.
The TTC is the latest of several attempts to create a transatlantic alliance and consolidate the open market between the US and the EU, starting with the New Transatlantic Agenda (NTA, 1995) and ending with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, 2013). The previous TTIP, whose principles were to promote the market economy and strengthen and develop national economies open to a multilateral trading system, failed under the criticism of accentuating the power of private companies over States. Some European countries like France also believed that the project was clearly in favour of the United States. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US spying on its European partners contributed to a climate of mistrust. This led to the freezing of negotiations in 2016, following the election of Donald Trump.
Incentive or Trojan horse?
The TTC is therefore the outcome of long-term talks. It can be seen as a restricted TTIP, focused only on strategic issues regarding technology and the presence of monopolistic players in the sector. Among the topics discussed during this second meeting, several directly concern the development of digital technologies: artificial intelligence and the deployment of 5G/6G, security across digital, information and communications technologies and services (ICTS), and public financing for a more secure and resilient connectivity of ICTS supply chains in “third countries”. Others cover broader considerations, such as common standards, supply chain dependencies, investment co-ops, common rules on content moderation, and labour rights at the international level.
Can the TTC represent the interests of both the EU and the US while responding to the challenge of concentrated powers in the digital sector when all the main companies are American? This question becomes even more crucial in the context of the economic, ideological and technological race between the United States and China.
As the negotiations are just at the beginning, two scenarios seem possible. From a US perspective, the TTC could echo a debate held in the US Congress in 2020 over the opportunity of reinforcing antimonopoly policy. Since the US government is facing difficulties in maintaining control over domestic technological companies, being itself dependent on their products for strategic sectors, the TTC could represent an opportunity for US lawmakers to exploit the European regulation of the digital market and weaken the influence of Big Tech.
However, if we consider the historical and current protectionism of the United States, this scenario seems optimistic. It would perhaps be more realistic and coherent to consider the TTC as another strategy to ensure that European regulation, already weakened by the powerful Big Tech lobbies, remain in line with American interests.
This also give the US a voice in the upcoming implementation of two important regulations for Europe’s digital service market, the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act. These texts, considered a threat by the tech giants, came after the Court of Justice of the European Union decided to invalidate the Privacy shield.
In the absence of any response to the questions raised by the CJEU, and in the context of economic negotiations on gas supply, the “agreement in principle” announced last March by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden on the establishment of a new Privacy Shield 2 suggests that this second scenario remains a threat.
The importance of common standards
The TTC is also tasked with setting up reliable and common technological standards valid both for the EU and the US. However, considering that, in the digital domain, the chosen standard is often the one most used by the ecosystem, and taking into account the existing advantage held by American Big Tech, the Technology Standards Cooperation working group could also suffer from a lack of objectivity.
This problem has already risen in the context of the European Gaia-X project, where 80% of the member companies are highly dependent on cloud services from Amazon Web Services. The EU (as well as the US) should ponder the real efficiency of the adopted standards (and the effects of dependence on them) before making any choice.
First and foremost, an ideological alliance
Above all, the TTC represents a political and ideological alliance based on a common creed, in which democracy and shared values are seen as the moral anchor and political justification for US-EU collaboration. The published joint statement is very clear on this point, making numerous references to the war in Ukraine and the position of the TTC in relation to Russia after the beginning of the conflict.
The TTC can therefore be seen as a symptom of increased geopoliticization of a technological subject, tinged with moral considerations in the area of democracy and common values. The current climate of cold war has pushed once independent countries to join the Atlantic alliance. All this is happening in a context in which EU companies rely heavily on American digital technologies but no not yet see a need to establish a real industrial strategy to avoid foreign dependence.
However, the management of such dependencies will become an increasingly important subject as geopolitical tensions increase and as climate and environmental tensions call into question the role of digital technologies and emerging powers.
 “EU-US Trade and Technology Council: strengthening our renewed partnership in turbulent times”, European Commission Press release, May 16, 2022.
 NADLER J. et CICILLINE D.N., “Investigation of competition in digital markets, Majority staff report and recommendations”, Subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative law of the committee on the judiciary, October 6, 2020.
 The Court of Justice invalidates Decision 2016/1250 on the adequacy of the protection provided by the EU-US Data Protection Shield, Press release, CJEU, 16 July 2020.
 U.S.-EU Joint Statement of the Trade and Technology Council, U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Public Affairs, 16 may 2022.
 “Sweden and Finland formally apply to join Nato”, The guardian, 18 may 2022.
 “Cloud computing - statistics on the use by enterprises”, Eurostat, 4 february 2022, p.7.