​European politicians to US: We won't use law to stop tech growth

'We're just like you', fifty members of European Parliament tell their US counterparts.

European Parliament Strasbourg
The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France. Image: iStock
Fifty members of European Parliament have hit back at the growing view in the US that the EU is using legislation to handicap Silicon Valley firms, in order to protect European interests.

The MEPs outlined their objections in a joint letter on Tuesday, challenging claims of "digital protectionism" coming from US President Barack Obama and the private sector that latch on to the idea that Europe can't muster an answer to "GAFA", a term used in some quarters of Europe to refer to the big four of Silicon Valley: Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.

As National Journal noted this week, Obama in February said that what often is portrayed as "high-minded positions" from Europe are "just designed to carve out some of their com­mer­cial in­terests".

That's wrong, according to the European MEPs.

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"While we admire the dynamism and success of Silicon Valley, we trust in Europe's ability to foster talent, creativity, and entrepreneurship. The acronym 'GAFA' is not one we ever use, and we do not see legislation as a way to manage the growth of companies," the MEPs wrote.

The letter comes as a number of European legal and regulatory changes are hanging over US companies operating in Europe, including the recent 'right to be forgotten' ruling, tax law, privacy, and Safe Habour scheme.

While Europe is searching for an answer to its digital single-market ambition, the MEPs warned it would be a mistake to lump all EU MEPs into a single digital basket.

"We represent different political parties, and come from different EU member states. We have different ideas on privacy and platforms, net neutrality and encryption, Bitcoin, zero-days or copyright. We will seek to improve and change any proposal from the European Commission, in the interest of our citizens and of all people," they wrote, adding that they're not so different to their US counterparts.

"We know you have similar debates in the US. In fact we are personally lobbied by US and EU-based firms and NGO's alike," they added.

The letter came ahead of yesterday's recommendation by an advisor to Europe's top court to rule the US-EU Safe Habour scheme invalid. In light of the US surveillance activities revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, advocate general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Yves Bot, also argued European national data protection authorities should not assume that Safe Habour means Europeans' private data is safe in the US and that they should have the authority to suspend the transfer of user data to the US.

Last week France's data protection authority also rejected Google's appeal against an order on it to apply 'right to forgotten' search result removals to all of its domains and not just European Google domains.

Europe's digital chief Günther Oettinger told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week that in designing the EU's regulatory framework for online firms, he was certain that "we'll find rules [for platforms] that don't smell of protection and discrimination" but will be fair for all players.

Oettinger is in the US this week to meet Silicon Valley execs and officials in Washington to counter concerns that EU legislative proposals are designed to hobble American firms.

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