European Lawmakers Scold U.S. for Levying Charges of Digital Protectionism

“The political debates on the way forward are not a ‘Transatlantic rift’ and should not be made into one,” members of the European Parliament wrote.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Justin Sullivan AFP/Getty
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Sept. 22, 2015, 12:50 p.m.

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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