The European Union (EU) has announced its selection of critical technologies that will be the focus of its economic security strategy. The identified areas include advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum technologies, and biotech. These technologies are considered to pose the “most serious and immediate risks” to the EU’s security and resilience, as they have the potential to strengthen rivals’ industries and militaries and impinge on human rights.
EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton emphasized that this strategy is not targeted against any specific country or continent, but rather for the benefit of Europe and its citizens. While the EU does not explicitly name China as the focus of its policy, officials privately acknowledge that China is a pressing concern in terms of economic security. The EU aims to adapt to the new geopolitical realities and establish itself as a true geopolitical power.
The EU’s list of critical technologies serves as a signal of its willingness to de-risk its relations with China without completely decoupling from it. Agathe Demarais, an expert on geoeconomics, views this list as a demonstration of the EU’s understanding of the risks associated with doing business with China. The EU plans to conduct risk assessments with its member states to determine their exposure in terms of technological security and leakages in critical technologies.
In addition to the initial four technologies, six more will be investigated next spring. These include advanced connectivity, navigation and digital technology, advanced sensing technology, space and propulsion technology, energy technology, robotics, and advanced materials. However, the compilation of this list has faced challenges from internal disagreements within the European Commission.
While member states have voiced support for de-risking ties with China, there is a lack of coherence on how exactly to proceed. France and Germany, for instance, have divergent views on investigating Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles. The EU’s timeline for completing the risk assessments by the end of the year may be overly optimistic due to the complexity of the technologies involved and expected resistance from member states.
It is important to note that the EU’s economic security strategy is not about severing business ties with China, but rather about reevaluating the nature of these relations. The EU wants to maintain strong business connections with China while addressing concerns related to economic security. The EU’s adoption of an “anti-coercion instrument” gives it the ability to impose trade measures on countries engaged in economic bullying, as demonstrated by the case of Lithuania facing economic coercion from China.
This development in the EU’s economic security strategy underscores the importance of safeguarding critical technologies and maintaining a balance between economic interests and national security concerns. As technology continues to drive global competition, it becomes imperative for nations and blocs to navigate the risks associated with these advancements.