On January 22nd, 2024, Luiss University’s Flavia Lucenti and Thomas Christiansen published a Policy Brief on the role of the European Union in Geopolitical Rivalry and the Regulation of Strategic Technologies. 

The Policy Brief published by ISPI, one of the most renowned Italian think tanks in international affairs, is broadly related to the forthcoming Special Issue of the journal Geopolitics in which both authors are co-editing involved. With the rise of strategic technologies such as AI, the matter at stake gains relevance given the challenges for the EU to define its role in the global competition among the major powers. Against this background the Policy Brief seeks to be provide new perspectives based on academic research aimed at potential stakeholders and policymakers. 

The discussion around artificial intelligence (AI) has generated a heated public debate, with various players considering technological innovations both a priority and a concern for societies in general and within the context of geopolitical rivalry in particular. 

The European discourse on strategic technologies usually revolves around the role the EU and its member states can or should play when confronted by the two giants – the US and China – who appear to have a different agenda to that of the EU. 

While the United States approaches AI with a laissez-faire attitude, China seeks to utilize new technologies in the construction of a surveillance state. 

In contrast, the EU seeks to actively regulate such technologies, as evidenced by the adoption of an AI Act that intends to establish a normative framework regulating AI and the regulatory efforts to define its limits of action, especially in the digital space.

The EU has developed a role as a brake on the harmful and unethical use of these technologies to ensure that these are applied in accordance with the liberal values to which the EU and its member states are committed. Such an undertaking is geared towards asserting the EU as a rule-setter in what has been called ‘The New Great Game.’

To this testament, the European Parliament has reached an agreement to harmonize the use of AI in the European market and more broadly in the EU while respecting its own rights and values. 

However, the EU faces the daunting prospect of being squeezed in a technology race between the US and China. To preserve its own position in the context of this geopolitical competition and uphold a rules-based system for international trade and technological exchange, the EU ought to continue to act as a normative power. 

In this sense, the EU is betting on amplifying the so-called Brussels Effect, defined as the global standardization process carried out unilaterally by the European Union and projected beyond its borders through market mechanisms. 

In the field of technology, the EU is hence pursuing what Anu Bradford describes as a rights-driven model, enforced through the adoption of a new anti-coercive approach aimed at countering and mitigating unwelcome practices by other nations in the field of strategic technologies.

Full Citation: 

Lucenti, F., Christiansen, T., (2024), Geopolitical Rivarly and the Regulation of Strategic Technologies: What Role for the European Union? [Policy Brief], ISPI, https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/geopolitical-rivalry-and-the-regulation-of-strategic-technologies-what-role-for-the-european-union-161044

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