Chapter News

Speech: “A new era of transatlantic cooperation”

Speech by EVP Margrethe Vestager at the Information Technology Industry Council |

Good morning. Thank you, for the invitation to speak today and to Mr Oxman for the kind presentation.

If we go by the polls, the Western World is experiencing what we could call a ‘One Third’ political crisis.

Just the other day, a survey here in Belgium revealed that One Third of people no longer believe they are living in a democracy. One Third believe society would be better run if we replaced parliamentary democracy with dictatorship. And in case you think it’s just Belgium, One Third is also the proportion of Americans who did not trust the results of the recent Presidential election. Meanwhile in France, One Third is also the proportion of people under 30 who would be happy for their country to become a military dictatorship.

These polls are a wake-up call – for politicians, for the media and for our civil society. It is a call to action for all of us who believe in the values that underpin a tolerant, pluralist society. We must work harder to reach this One Third of the population, especially where it concerns young people. And not just to reach them, but to listen, and to address the root cause of their discontent.

It is also a wake-up call for industry leaders in technology. There can be little doubt that trends in technology have had an effect on the One Third political crisis.

Digital connectivity has brought us enormous benefits, to ease communication – not least helping us make it through the pandemic – and to growth and innovation. At the same time, recent revelations have confirmed how technology has also had a deeply polarising effect in our societies. Algorithms can push users to extremes, widen political divisions, and weaken our sense of common humanity. The spread of disinformation has muddled the political debate and become a tool of foreign interference in our democratic processes.

So what do we do about it?

We begin with a return to values – those core ideas which unite us, which have defined our civilisation for hundreds of years, and which are the basis of our democracies. Maybe we have allowed ourselves to grow complacent, taking our values for granted, a bit too much. So it’s worth restating them.

Pluralism, democracy, equality, and free and open markets.

These are precisely the values that have tied the EU and the US together for generations. They are the starting point for our forum for renewed transatlantic cooperation – the Trade and Technology Council.

On both sides of the Atlantic, we face common challenges. How do we ensure our supply chains are resilient? How do we foster open trade? How do we benefit from technology while minimising its harmful effects on our markets, or on our mental health?

For each of these challenges, there are options, different political directions we could take. By cooperating across the Atlantic, by building on the common values we share, we can steer in the same direction. We can advance our shared interests, without letting the current of history sweep away the things we hold most dear.

Our first meeting of the Trade and Technology Council took place two weeks ago, in Pittsburgh. And the venue was well chosen by our hosts. The story of this city’s transformation, from a fossil fuelled economy to a high technology hub, expresses well what the TTC is all about.

I was stuck by the openness of our discussion and the common sense of purpose: to use our combined weight to build a positive vision for democracies to lead a global digital transformation based on our shared values.

This does not mean we will agree on everything. And some of our discussions revealed that. But it does mean that we can use this forum to understand each other better, and build the trust necessary to work through some of the more difficult issues as well.

We have agreed an ambitious agenda ahead of our next meeting, to be delivered through ten working groups. It is comprehensive in scope yet realistic by focusing on our main priorities.

For example, I am particularly encouraged by our agreement on Artificial Intelligence, both in terms of the key principles we have committed to and the concrete projects we will be developing together. It shows our shared ambition that there is no contradiction between promoting innovation while upholding our fundamental rights.

We have committed to work together on semiconductors, to assess the gaps and vulnerabilities in the supply chain, and work together to diversify, reduce strategic dependencies and increase our respective security of supply, while avoiding a subsidy race.

We have outlined shared concerns when it comes to role of platforms, for instance on illegal and harmful content, algorithmic amplification, disinformation, data access to researchers, or the need to appropriately address their market power. We will hold in-depth discussion on all these issues.

Openness is one of the values we share with the United States, and that it will be a defining feature of how the new Council operates.

Dialogue and discussion with industry and all other stakeholders, in an inclusive way, will be a hallmark of the TTC.

As always, the devil will be in the details. For the TTC, the ten designated working groups will hash out many of those details. I have no doubt that by keeping up the open and frank dialogue; we will find a lot of common ground.

But if ‘the devil is in the details’, where is the angel?

I think the angel is in our shared values. On both sides of the Atlantic, we share a common belief in freedom, in equality of opportunity, in fairness, and in the supremacy of democracy over all other forms of government. We reject tyranny and we defend the human rights – of all women and men.

In the EU, as in the US, we believe that Two Thirds is not enough. We believe in shaping our economies and our politics so that there is a place for Three Thirds.

Thank you.

Compliments of the European Commission.