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Seeing the wood for the trees: Why the digital single market matters for Transatlantic relations

The European Union and the United States are far from being able to create a fully integrated transatlantic digital economy write Guillaume Xavier-Bender, Robert Atkinson and Andrea Renda. Beyond difficulties resulting from different legal traditions, regulatory paths, and market outcomes, digital policymaking on both sides of the Atlantic is increasingly affected by political developments. In the EU in particular, moving ahead with the implementation of the Digital Agenda has increasingly been hampered by concerns over the possible control of Europe’s digital future by U.S. companies. Recent decisions over the right to retain and transfer data — such as the invalidation of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor agreement in October 2015 — have further cast a cloud over transatlantic economic relations in general.

When the European Commission launched a new Digital Single Market strategy in June 2015, there was hope on the other side of the Atlantic that such initiative would contribute to reducing the gap between partners, and would possibly lead to further integration of the two economies. Indeed, the Digital Single Market Strategy matters for the United States. Yet current tensions between Washington, Brussels, and European capitals may actually increase distances between all stakeholders — paradoxically at a time when further digital integration within the EU, and with the United States, is called for.

As the European Union embarks in a series of initiatives under the flagship of the Digital Single Market strategy, policymakers should see the forest for the trees. Current discussions over data protection, data privacy, data retention, e-commerce, copyright, platforms, etc. are laying the pipes of new economies and societies across the continent. They may also redefine the narrative of transatlantic economic relations.

The EU’s Digital Single Market Strategy could widen the gap between political and regulatory approaches to digitalization on both sides of the Atlantic. There are still significant differences in the way the United States and the EU regulate their digital markets.

The European Union and the United States are far from being able to create a fully integrated transatlantic digital economy. Beyond difficulties resulting from different legal traditions, regulatory paths, and market outcomes, digital policymaking on both sides of the Atlantic is increasingly affected by political developments. In the EU in particular, moving ahead with the implementation of the Digital Agenda has increasingly been hampered by concerns over the possible control of Europe’s digital future by U.S. companies. Recent decisions over the right to retain and transfer data — such as the invalidation of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor agreement in October 2015 — have further cast a cloud over transatlantic economic relations in general.

When the European Commission launched a new Digital Single Market strategy in June 2015, there was hope on the other side of the Atlantic that such initiative would contribute to reducing the gap between partners, and would possibly lead to further integration of the two economies. Indeed, the Digital Single Market Strategy matters for the United States. Yet current tensions between Washington, Brussels, and European capitals may actually increase distances between all stakeholders — paradoxically at a time when further digital integration within the EU, and with the United States, is called for.

As the European Union embarks in a series of initiatives under the flagship of the Digital Single Market strategy, policymakers should see the forest for the trees. Current discussions over data protection, data privacy, data retention, e-commerce, copyright, platforms, etc. are laying the pipes of new economies and societies across the continent. They may also redefine the narrative of transatlantic economic relations.

Guillaume Xavier-Bender is a Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshal Fund GMF), Robert Atkinson and Andrea Renda are contributors. This article was first published by the GMF 

– See more at: http://www.gmfus.org/publications/seeing-forest-trees#sthash.0IyZyWzy.dpuf

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