Home RegionsEurope The EU Sets Ambitious Digital Goals, But Doubles Down on Regulation and Protectionism Rather Than Free Trade and Innovation

The EU Sets Ambitious Digital Goals, But Doubles Down on Regulation and Protectionism Rather Than Free Trade and Innovation

by Eline Chivot

BRUSSELS—In response to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union address, the Center for Data Innovation released the following statement from Senior Policy Analyst Eline Chivot:

President von der Leyen outlined an ambitious plan for the EU to “lead the way on digital,” but unfortunately continues to prioritize regulation of technologies over adoption, and protectionism rather than free trade.

President von der Leyen stressed the importance of the EU moving ahead on artificial intelligence, but also called for a new law to regulate the technology. The EU does not have a good track record in this area. The president declared in her speech today that even after the EU’s most ambitious digital law, the GDPR, has forced companies to spend billions of euros on compliance, Europeans still “have no idea what happens to our data in reality.” This amounts to admitting that existing rules such as the GDPR have failed to deliver on their promise.

Similarly, President von der Leyen renewed the EU’s commitment to the free flow of data and to mutually beneficial transatlantic relations, but when it came to specifics she reiterated the goal of digital sovereignty and defended protectionist policies such as the European cloud and data services federation Gaia-X. The EU has always been much stronger when it has been united with its allies, and it should rely on partnerships with the United States, Japan, Canada, and others to pursue leadership in the upcoming “digital decade.” For example, the president praised the EU’s progress in digitization during the COVID-19 crisis, but she failed to acknowledge the role of foreign technology companies in keeping the EU’s economy running.

The EU has the right goals and many important initiatives that can help it achieve its goals. For example, President von der Leyen’s speech also called for introducing a secure European e-identity, making a major investment in supercomputers, and expanding broadband access. If the EU wants to thrive in the digital economy, it should focus on expanding digital skills, adoption, and trade, not pursuing protectionist rules or increasing regulation.

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