A stronger partner: How Europeans can make the most of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council

This report provides symbolic photos on EU-US relations. Together the US and EU dominate global trade, they play the leading roles in international diplomacy and military strength
Image by picture alliance / Hans Lucas | Union Europeenne

The moment to invest

The four long years of fraught transatlantic relations under Donald Trump helped birth the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC), which meets again on 30 January.

The TTC has met four times in total and helped bring about modest but tangible results on issues such as artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and green tech. Progress on trade issues has stalled, mostly due to US unwillingness to bargain.

However, the prospect of a Trump return combined with a potentially much more sceptical EU landscape after June’s European Parliament election are fuelling the temptation to pause and see what comes next. Expectations for the upcoming meeting are low on both sides.

Yet potentially tempestuous times ahead should instead persuade Europeans to invest in the TTC. With its relative economic weight and competitiveness declining, the European Union needs to inject new impetus into the dialogue.

How to do it

The United States has identified a number of issues that are key to its economic security policy. The EU should ensure the TTC helps address these priorities. In doing so, it can bolster its own position and offer itself as a stronger partner for the US.

One such issue is AI governance. Last year saw a flurry of international dialogues on AI governance: in the OECD, at the G7 in Japan, and at the UK-hosted AI Safety Summit. These showed a surprising convergence of views. As a priority, the EU should present the TTC as a vehicle to coordinate with the US on working towards a global system governance on responsible AI. The upcoming UN-sponsored Summit of the Future offers a platform to make use of such a joint EU-US approach.

Semiconductors and quantum technology are also a US priority. Investing in the TTC could help shield the EU from extraterritorial fall-out from American unilateralism, as seen with semiconductor lithography over the last two years. For instance, the EU can reduce the chance of finding itself effectively subject to the outcome of American risk assessments by bringing its own such assessments on critical technologies to the table at the TTC.

But the EU also urgently needs to adapt in order to deal with the new challenges. Firstly, member states should provide the European Commission with more information and empower the commission externally on export controls, just as last week’s commission white paper on economic security suggests.

In addition, European decision-makers should find ways to strengthen member states’ ownership of the TTC. They can achieve this by streamlining discussions on European economic security and technology within the council structures. The current Belgian council presidency has tabled some sensible ideas for doing just that, such as by introducing orientational debates on digital diplomacy in the foreign affairs and telecommunications councils. This will strengthen European preparations for the TTC.

Investing in the TTC is in itself no guarantee it will survive this year of elections. But institutionalising it would serve both European and US interests. Apart from technical improvements, investing politically by empowering the commission and through political engagement of member states, the EU – through the TTC – can ensure European policymakers are able to influence the development of AI, quantum, and semiconductors.

When a meeting is not a meeting

A symptom of the low expectations is the way in which the TTC’s next meeting is not even officially presented as its fifth meeting, but merely as an interim consultation without formal written conclusions. A formal fifth meeting is possibly only to be scheduled for later in April.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Senior Policy Fellow

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