Reflections on the U.S.-EU TTC: Progress on Transatlantic Digital Policy – But Controversial Issues Remain

By Mort Skroejer and Paul Lekas

There is much to celebrate about the second ministerial meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC), held on May 16 in Paris-Saclay, France. Relations between the U.S. and the EU have vastly improved in the past year. Contacts at all levels of government are more frequent, and they are marked by a genuine desire to work constructively toward finding solutions to common challenges. But there is also room for improvement. After two rounds of high-level meetings, the TTC is approaching a point where the parties will need to move beyond the low-hanging fruit and show measurable progress on some of the thornier issues in the transatlantic relationship around digital governance.

The second TTC meeting took place in the shadow of the brutal and illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. Tragic as it is, the invasion provided an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the transatlantic relationship, pursue policies based on “shared democratic values” and, with astonishing speed, agree to implement debilitating sanctions and export control measures aimed at the Putin regime.

The U.S.-EU Joint Statement outlines a robust agenda for pursuing alignment on tech and digital policy.  SIIA is pleased that the ministerial adopted recommendations we advocated for with U.S. and EC officials. Importantly, the TTC announced that it will undertake concrete steps to further a risk-based approach to artificial intelligence (AI) that builds on the critical work being done by the OECD, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and standards development organizations.This will enable regulators to better assess AI systems for safety, security, trustworthiness, and bias. 

In addition, as suggested by SIIA, the TTC will pursue a common project around privacy enhancing technologies (PETs). The PET category includes technologies that are designed to protect the privacy and security of sensitive information. The reason PETs are so important is that they can serve as an integral part of a democratic model of emerging technology, and act as a counter to an authoritarian model preferred in some countries that sacrifices privacy, trust, safety, and transparency.

The TTC was not going to be able to solve every trade or technology-related irritant in the transatlantic relationship in the first year of its existence. And there is much to commend governments on both sides for all that has been accomplished so far. But after two successful meetings, it is also important to be clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead.

There remain challenges in the transatlantic relationship around digital policy. Critically, the EU has moved forward with a series of regulations that will make it more difficult to pursue a shared vision of democratic technology governance. These include the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act, which would create barriers to U.S. companies and carry risks to international security. In addition, the recently proposed Data Act compounds these challenges and would impose restrictions on international transfers of information well beyond those that led to the invalidation of the Privacy Shield and have imperiled transatlantic commerce. 

Forging closer bonds and reestablishing trust are important accomplishments in the first year of the TTC. But building on these early successes by delivering more concrete results will be important for the next round of talks in December.

SIIA’s recommendations for the second TTC ministerial are summarized here. And the joint U.S.-EU Joint Statement following the talks can be found here.

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