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EU's Superpower: The Secret Sauce Shaking Global Conversations
The subtle magic of Europe's regulatory clout in steering worldwide norms and standards - a spicy twist on global governance
As someone who has been living in Europe for less than 2 years, I have to say it has been a learning experience( but yeah just like moving anywhere with a new culture, and a new language let’s not make this entire intro an immigration-porn sob story) But one thing that I’ve noticed and have read a bit about is the effect, power and influence the EU has over global conversations and even though sometimes it might not be the loudest voice in many issues the EU exerts a somewhat secret, but extremely effective superpower and how it might help shape the future and affect your life whether you live in the EU or not.
Wait isn’t this just Colonialism 2.0?
Not necessarily, from being the cradle of the industrial revolution (the discussions as to why they're in all places is a fascinating discussion about growth economics, that we will not be having today) Europe has had a predominant role in world history, though after being the epicenter of 2 of the most bloody and destructive wars in human history, and then being split between the two superpowers during the cold war, Europe became less the “center” of where things happened to be a place of reconstruction and at the end of the 20th century it just became a stable region with a good quality of life, but where not a lot of “interesting” things where happening on a global scale (at least until Russia decided to unilaterally start invading its neighbors and now we’re back to proxy wars woo!)
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But how can the EU remain relevant without the economic might and unity of the US or without the dynamism and speed of technological development and growth in Asia, that is a very interesting question that Finnish-American Author explains in her 2020 book Called “The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World”(damn that’s a good title)in it the author discusses how the EU has created a system of influence based on it’s economic and political relevance as the great leverage for its regulatory bureaucracy to become its tool for stirring global conversations.
Ok but how does this work?
In a nutshell, it means that regarding a lot of global industries, after the EU states regulation on how a specific industry should operate in order to sell its products or services in the EU it kinda signals the entire planet on how everyone should also build their regulatory institution or policies following suit with what the EU has said. Also in the age of globalization and worldwide reaching corporations a ruling by the EU can very much change the way a company operates worldwide because, in most cases trying to adapt to the EU is such an investment that it is just easier (in most cases) to adapt the entire company and have everything under EU standards.
Now this is not 100% for all industries and of course, in a lot of cases, the extra cost is not worth it companies have 2 lines of regulatory frameworks one for the EU and similar regulatory markets and another one for the rest where weaker regulation allows for products with dangerous ingredients, or less security measures or in the case of digital products and services where privacy and access to our personal data is just not a concern.
So it is really interesting to see how the UE leverages its market power as the second or third (depending on the metric) single market on the planet but also because it is the one with the deepest regulatory and bureaucratic apparatus that is poised on creating a leveled playing field for companies and provide somewhat of a safe marketplace with products that have to assure the safety, privacy, and health of its consumers.
The EU’s Role in Shaping the Digital Landscape.
As previously mentioned the bureaucratic arm of the EU through Its MANY institutions (yeah I get lost when trying to make the difference between the European Council, The Council of Europe so let’s NOT go down that rabbit hole) can wield tremendous power Thanks also to the sheer size of the single market. Though in some industries as previously mentioned the cost of modifying a manufacturing process might be too high or might incur an entire shift in the structure of a factory plan, for digital products and services compliance is easier and cost-effective.
Also due to the transnational nature of the internet a multilateral international organism such as the EU encompassing many different nations has a somewhat unique influence and power over tech companies, unlike any other country or regulatory body. For example, with the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) the UE passed possibly the first global digital regulatory impact to control and restrict the abuse of tech companies over people's data which forces tech companies (amongst many other things) to disclose and request explicitly what data they require from the users ( Also why a couple of years ago you probably received a wave of emails notifying how their terms and conditions have changed)
And that’s not the end of it the EU has recently approved the Digital Markets Act(DMA) which is a new piece of legislation aimed at breaking the gatekeepers of internet platforms. This means that online marketplaces like Apple have preferences for their own apps over other ones or have an unfair marketplace. This could mean a more fair and free market online without the disbalances that could be caused by these “gatekeepers”.Again it will take effect in the EU but the repercussions will be felt globally afterward because most tech companies will probably adjust their entire platforms to appease this regulation regardless if you’re in the UE or not you might get a DMA-compliant marketplace or at least a “DMA-lite version” in your country soon enough.
EU meets AI
Now, we know that the highest concentration of technology development and capital is currently in silicon valley and we can argue if all the ideas that come from there are good (they’re not) but that is not the point what we do know is that compared to its historical place under the sun the EU is a bit of a laggard in terms of digital technologies. This is mainly because the largest tech startup that has global reach from Europe is Spotify and… that’s almost it (ALMOST I know…) But still for such an economic block the landscape is pretty barren in regards to that so in the age of AI the EU needs some other tools to have some influence in shaping the future of humanity and it may indirectly be one of the strongest and most positive influences in its development.
As we have seen previously The Brussel effect can be somehow the only tool that anyone has been able to employ to have some control over the rising power of Tech giants (GAFAM) and their encroaching on people’s privacy and their flexibility regarding being under the jurisdiction of a single country or territory thanks to the global capacity of the internet.
Now the EU is drafting an AI Act to try and mitigate and reduce the negative externalities of this technological development while maximizing the benefits and ensuring the privacy and safety of the people using it. In this act, it is proposed of categorizing different AI tools into 4 categories: Minimal Risk, High Risk Unacceptable Risk, and finally Foundation Models.
Minimal Risks entail tools that use AI and will require the bare minimum regulatory-wise with just transparency compliance, these include Some generative AI Art platforms, chatbots, emotion detection, and social categorization based on biometric data.
High-risk will be considered platforms such as usage in medical devices, education, critical infrastructure, essential public and private services, and so on. These will require Heavier oversight, transparency Accuracy protocols, Establishing a risk management system, and responsible data governance. (each one their own category and a compliance office is needed probably)
Then the unacceptable risks are platforms that will be outright prohibited these are platforms that will do Biometric categorization through sensitive or protected attributes (this is a lot of legalese so I kinda don’t get what they mean) Another category is platforms that cause harm by distorting the judgment based on exploiting vulnerabilities in human psyche or social behaviors ( like social engineering programs using AI) And my favorite prohibition is the ban of General Purpose Social Scoring by Public Authorities, which means no social credit scoring system like the one implemented by the Chinese Regime of the CCP
Finally, Foundation Models refer to wide applicability AI models such as ChatGPT which given different prompts could do a wide range of tasks and provide information of different kinds these foundation models will require even deeper regulation regarding the content created by them to be marked a registry with the EU-relevant institution, and also the previously mentioned ones for high-risk platforms.
Now some critics could say that this sort of regulation will stifle the development of competitive AI platforms and due to the high demands for AI companies to operate in the EU some will just skip or AI startups in Europe will face a harder climb to be able to reach the market. And some of those criticism might be true partly but a good regulatory framework is imperative for a technology that can determine the future of humanity in such a way as AI will.
So leaving it to be completely free without us having a proper time to discuss the applications and restrictions of this technology, could pose a danger to us as the dominant intelligence on this planet I agree that I’d rather be safe than sorry in this case.
Much-Needed Global Cooperation and Integration
We are currently living in a poly-crisis-time, between the climate crisis, the rise of AI and so many other medium-sized to global catastrophic risks looming ahead now more than ever we need the capacity to collaborate on a global basis to tackle these challenges and the EU through the Brussels effect and other integrative tools are the shining examples of the benefits (which outweigh the cons overall in my opinion) of regional deep integration and collaboration. Countries and people that felt alone and without a voice can come together and have a more efficient capacity to collaborate and at the same time oppose certain forces that without a clear regulatory pathway could become a threat to an individual’s freedoms and privacy.
So maybe we can take the EU’s model for other region’s integrations and adapt it to better suit other regions which is always a topic of endless debate that kinda leads to nowhere in other regions, but still, the push towards more and better global collaboration is imperative in this century and for the future of humanity if we have any hopes of expanding our civilization beyond our planet and overcoming most of the threats to our survival we will need to overcome the inherent bickering of our egos and borders and transcend towards a humanity-driven identity instead of carrying on our shoulders the weight and conflicts of the past.
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