BERLIN—European lawmakers are rebuffing charges from U.S. politicians that the continent is engaging in systematic “digital protectionism” intended to thwart Silicon Valley’s global dominance, arguing that talk of a “Transatlantic rift” on data issues is overblown despite ongoing regulatory challenges for tech firms like Google and Facebook.
In a signed statement dated Monday but not yet officially released publicly, more than 50 members of the European Parliament say they are “surprised and concerned about the strong statements coming from U.S. sources about regulatory and legislative proposals on the digital agenda for the [European Union].”
The statement, obtained from a technology industry source, calls out President Obama by name before adding: “The political debates on the way forward are not a ‘Transatlantic rift’ and should not be made into one. Rather they represent different views and beliefs that run right through our societies.”
The rebuke comes just a day after France’s data-privacy regulator rejected an appeal by Google that tried to limit the country’s demand that Europe’s “right to be forgotten” from search indexes be extended globally to all of Google’s domains. It also arrives just a month after Google responded to Europe’s long-running antitrust probe of the search king, sharply rebutting the 28-member bloc’s accusations as “wrong as a matter of fact, law, and economics.”
U.S. lawmakers have long suggested that European regulators are attempting to use red tape and legal challenges to wage war on American tech giants and give a leg up to their own companies. Even President Obama has lambasted Europe’s response to the Edward Snowden revelations, suggesting some of the outrage over spying in Germany and elsewhere may be somewhat disingenuous.
“In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else,” Obama told the tech site Re/code in February. “We have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that they can’t compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests.”
The letter comes amid a weeklong public-relations campaign being waged by Europe to convince the U.S. that protectionism fears are unfounded—an effort that will culminate on Thursday with a speech from Günther Oettinger, the European Union’s commissioner in charge of digital affairs, due to be delivered at the Center for Transatlantic Relations.
“I see the Americans’ concerns, but I think they’re unfounded,” Oettinger, who arrived in the U.S. Tuesday, told The Wall Street Journal this weekend. “Having a level playing field is my ambition.”
Also on Thursday, the European Commission is expected to release publicly a working consultation paper that discusses forging a regulatory framework for online platforms, policing against illegal content posted on the Internet, and access to data stored in cloud services. Draft copies of the paper were leaked online last week.
“While we admire the dynamism and success of Silicon Valley, we trust in Europe’s ability to foster talent, creativity and entrepreneurship,” the letter reads. “… We consider close cooperation between the EU and the U.S. as vital in a changing world.”
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