The COVID-19 crisis has exposed Europe’s strategic vulnerabilities and underscored the need for the European Union to foster its own industrial policy and aim for technological sovereignty in “the new geopolitical order”, the EU’s Commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, has stressed.
Breton addressed the topic in a speech on the ‘geopolitics of technology’ on Tuesday (27 July) in the context of the EU geopolitical course charted by the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, the high representative for the Union’s foreign policy.
“In this new geopolitical order, Europe acts like a strategist rather than just a market. It remains open, but on its own terms. It makes its own choices and draws up its own rules, and is not afraid of imposing them on its partners,” Breton said at the Menéndez Pelayo International University.
Within the European Commission, the French politician has been among the most vocal advocates of open strategic autonomy, pushing for an active industrial policy aimed at reducing to the minimum the EU’s economic dependency on countries outside the bloc.
While Breton embodies France’s dirigiste tradition, his interventionist approach is not without controversy in the European Union, especially for Nordic countries that are historical defenders of an open economic model.
Breton said that “we have entered a global race in which the mastery of technologies is central. It is largely thanks to disruptive technologies that Europe will be able to embark fully on its twin green and digital transition while guaranteeing its resilience and autonomy.”
For the Commissioner, the COVID-19 crisis highlighted Europe’s strategic vulnerabilities, such as its dependency on American and Asian producers for semiconductors, the basic component for electronic devices. In less than 30 years, Europe’s market share of semiconductors dropped from 40% to 10%, leaving the bloc exposed to the current global semiconductor shortage.
“This example fully illustrates the meaning and importance of what we call technological sovereignty. Without it, we will remain too exposed to the ups and downs of the world,” Breton added.
To strengthen the European value chains in strategic sectors, the Commission has launched industrial alliances to create a coordinated effort with businesses, research and other stakeholders. Last week, the EU executive launched two new alliances, on semiconductors and cloud technologies.
At the same time, Breton noted that another key part of the Commission’s agenda has been “supporting European technologies with a regulatory arsenal”. He mentioned the Data Governance Act and the Artificial Intelligence Act as the two key legislative initiatives meant to boost Europe’s technological leadership.
The EU has also introduced mechanisms to safeguard strategic sectors, notably through the screening of foreign direct investments, that has been operational since the end of last year. The Commission is also increasing its oversight of foreign subsidies for market acquisitions and public procurement procedures.
Breton said the next step will be a standardisation strategy the Commission will present in the coming months, because “who makes the standard holds the market”. He singled out 5G, batteries, hydrogen, and quantum computing as sectors where the EU wants to become a ‘standard maker’.
[Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic]