Strategic Autonomy Tech Alliances

The Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) published a Report on Strategic Autonomy Tech Alliances. It provides the status and recommends steps forward for political-industrial-technological collaboration on digital technologies that are critical for sovereignty in the EU. 

Defending sovereignty and strengthening strategic autonomy is a top priority in Europe. With the war on Ukraine, it has become painfully clear how precious and vulnerable our democracy, our society, our economy, our values, in short, our sovereignty is. Sovereignty is at risk when there are strong dependencies on others and little control. ‘Others’ can be unfriendly states but also dominant companies if they are unaccountable or under foreign control. At risk may be privacy, sensitive data of governments and citizens, intellectual property, or even the resilience of critical infrastructures such as water, electricity, and telecommunications.

At the EU level, concrete action is shaping up to strengthen strategic autonomy in order to defend sovereignty, such as on batteries for electric vehicles, semiconductors (computer chips), cloud services, and to some extent pharmaceuticals, finance and most recently on military equipment.

Strategic autonomy is all about having the 3C of necessary capabilities such as knowledge, sufficient capacity such as factories to produce equipment and the right level of control. In many areas, it is not possible and not even desirable for the EU to independently realize these 3C’s. Strategic partnerships with like-minded parties are needed. With the US, Canada, Japan, Korea, or India. Possibly also other countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia. Alternatively, strategic autonomy can be realized through global collaboration. This is how today we manage internet addresses at a global level and how we managed to save the ozone layer.

Certain technologies are critical for sovereignty. In the digital domain, there is quite a range of such strategic autonomy technologies: semiconductors, quantum technology, Internet of Things (IoT), 5G/6G telecommunications, electronic identification, cloud services, trusted computing, data spaces, and social networks, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Strategic autonomy tech alliances must deliver sufficient control, capability, and capacity in these technologies. For this, solid political, industrial, and technological anchoring is necessary. Only then will there be a credible and effective collaboration of industry, governments, academia, and possibly also civil society. The Report analyses recent EU policy initiatives for tech collaboration, especially in digital technologies, and provides policy recommendations.

The EU has recently put forward a proposal for a strategic autonomic tech alliance on semiconductors, the EU Chips Act. In principle, companies from like-minded countries can take part. This already happens in the USA. The EU is also working on trusted cloud initiatives that are getting close to being a strategic autonomy tech alliance. But not all collaborations already fit the bill for being a real strategic autonomy tech alliance.

In some areas political, industrial, and technological anchoring is progressing but still needs to advance more before a strategic autonomy tech alliance can be launched. This is the case in cybersecurity, hardware security, and high-performance computing. In 5G/6G a strategic partnership of like-minded countries could be pursued (USA, Japan, etc.) combined with focused global collaboration with China, Africa, Latin America, and others. In IoT and AI, the EU still must develop more political awareness and technological focus before a strategic autonomy tech alliance can be on the drawing table. There is a lot more work to do!

(c) 2022 Prof Dr. Paul Timmers, University of Oxford/European University Cyprus