Digital Sovereignty: European Policies, American Dilemmas Notes de l'Ifri, January 2023
European digital sovereignty has been made a priority by Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission. Due to the privileged position of American companies in the European market, Brussels’ efforts towards digital sovereignty (on privacy, antitrust, data sovereignty, etc.) are closely scrutinized by American policymakers.
They often view European initiatives as “protectionist” and unfairly targeting U.S. companies.
However, the American vision of European digital sovereignty has evolved in recent years under the influence of two main factors. On the one hand, awareness of the problematic effects and practices of platforms has led to a consensus on the need for reform in the digital sector. On the other hand, technological competition with China has been elevated to a priority.
This vision remains fraught with contradictions, along inter-party, intra-party, inter-agency, state-federal, and issue-based fault lines. Washington’s position on anti-monopolistic practices is an illuminating example, characterized by a double discourse between a desire to reform the U.S. digital sector domestically and active diplomacy to dilute these efforts at the European level. Nonetheless, several American actors – particularly in the legislative branch – are seeking to learn from the successes and flaws of European regulations for American reform projects, such as on platform regulation or privacy.
The China factor reinforces the ambiguity of the U.S.’ position. It creates new opportunities for cooperation in the face of perceived common vulnerabilities (infrastructure security, inbound investments, etc.) and autocratic definitions of digital sovereignty. However, it also raises tension and misunderstanding on the American side towards European reforms that often target American companies more than Chinese ones.
Lastly, while American and European companies have adapted to the need for digital sovereignty through a range of technical and commercial solutions, the temptation of a maximalist definition of European sovereignty continues to create major stumbling blocks, particularly on the cloud.
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