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Transatlantic tech summit postponed as platform loses steam

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The high-level meeting of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council has been officially postponed, confirming that the initiative has slipped down the priority list on both sides of the pond.

US President Joe Biden and Commissioner President Ursula von der Leyen launched the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) with much fanfare at the EU-US Summit in June 2021. After transatlantic relations had reached an all-time low under the Trump administration, it signalled a re-energisation of talks between the two blocs.

Indeed, at the first meeting in September 2021, the two partners gathering to discuss a common position on technology issues seemed good enough. However, the atmosphere was pointed with the last-minute AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) pact that disrupted a French-Australian submarine deal.

At the second meeting that took place in May last year, the attention was inevitably on Russia as Moscow had recently initiated a war of aggression against Ukraine. The TTC’s ten working groups, divided into thematic areas, became a platform to collaborate on export controls of dual-use technology, investment screening, and countering disinformation.

However, as the conflict in Ukraine turned into a war of attrition, Brussels and Washington started looking for ‘tangible results’ to show the outcome of such cooperation.

The results they got to show for it at the third summit last December were quite meagre: a ‘joint roadmap’ for trustworthy AI, agreements to send each other early warning mechanisms on disruptions of semiconductor supply chains, alignment on export controls and little else.

At the last meeting in Sweden in May, very little, if anything, had moved except in terms of coordinating sanctions against Russia. The TTC’s lost momentum has been officially certified by the postponement of the next summit.

“Unfortunately, I must inform you that the meeting originally scheduled for December in Connecticut has been cancelled due to the unstable international situation that has swiftly become the focus of the Biden Administration,” reads an email sent to stakeholders on Thursday (30 November).

The internal communication adds that the next meeting is expected to occur in early April in Belgium, the country that will hold the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, with more information expected by the beginning of next year.

“Already in Sweden, it all seemed a bit of a joke. Now the project is completely dead,” a stakeholder involved told Euractiv under the condition of anonymity, adding that it will be difficult to organise something serious two months before the European elections next June.

Euractiv understands that the TTC never really took off as the two blocs sought had different agendas: Brussels wanted to bring Washington on the same page regarding digital policy, but Washington always refused to discuss EU legislation.

At the same time, the US somewhat more successfully used it as an anti-Russian and possibly anti-Chinese platform.

According to a senior EU official, the discussions have proven difficult on the trade side of things, as the Biden administration issued massive stimulus packages for green tech like electric vehicles. However, there is still an interest in discussing digital issues and good cooperation with the American leadership.

Still, with little concrete results to show and the re-opening of the Middle Eastern conflicts, both sides seem to have other priorities. And with crucial elections on both sides of the Atlantic next year, it remains to be seen if the TTC will survive its next meeting.

“What is the alternative to transatlantic cooperation? The EU’s idea of using the Brussels effect to be a regulatory superpower is an illusion. We need a transatlantic consensus to face common challenges and the rise of non-Western power,” Antonios Nestoras, deputy director of the European Liberal Forum, told Euractiv.

“The idea [of the TTC] is good. The implementation has been bad,” Nestoras added.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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