The Brief: Future of Europe means more meetings

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It was all supposed to be about the future of tech policy. Estonia hosted a ‘digital summit’ today focused on e-governance, cybersecurity and building up Europe’s tech industry. It may not have panned out quite that way but what’s certain is that we can expect more meetings like this.

Leaders from 27 EU countries arrived in Tallinn last night – this time it was Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who skipped the meeting ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia. But the problem was getting them to talk much about tech.

At a dinner in the Estonian capital last night, European Council President Donald Tusk talked about everything but digital policy. The dinner conversation was largely harmonious, but peppered with disagreements nonetheless, one source said.

There is one thing leaders seemed to agree they need more of though: meetings—and more informal ones outside Brussels like today’s. There will be a formal summit next month in Brussels, and in November another informal summit on social issues in Sweden. That should keep them busy.

Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters he wants leaders “to have that more often, to be able to exchange. To speak without needing to have a result.”

After French President Emmanuel Macron’s marathon speech about the future of Europe on Tuesday, the other heads of state are under pressure to say something in response. Tusk promised them he will deliver a detailed “political agenda” in two weeks.

Tusk’s proposal will come one week before the next EU summit in Brussels. The leaders wanted time to comb through his plans before they meet.

“Some may think it is a kind of a Eurovision contest, and perhaps it is, I am personally convinced that together, we will make good use of it, if we sing in unison,” Tusk said this morning.

Getting the EU27 to sing the same tune is of course easier said than done. One of the few things everyone in Tallinn could agree on was that artificial intelligence is important, and Europe should invest more to develop the area, another source said.

It’s convenient for politicians to talk about emerging technologies, investing in 5G and improving digital skills. It gives them a chance to talk about creating jobs and looking towards the future.

Estonia wanted to keep the talks focused on the big picture and not get caught up in the weeds of Brussels copyright fights or trialogue talks on digital single market files.

Politics of course seeped into the talks on Friday. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said there won’t be sufficient progress in Brexit talks to move ahead by next month.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said there was “no substance” in Macron’s proposals on the future of Europe. Predictably, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Bettel shot back at the Commission’s plans to tax tech companies based on revenue, not on profits.

After all, there are plenty of tech issues that don’t make for easy political wins.

The meeting was still ongoing when The Brief went online, check back for more digital content soon.

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Look out for…

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Views are the author’s

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