It's Time For Europe And The U.S. To Bury The GAFA Hatchet

Economist Bruno Alomar pleads for an appeasement of tensions on both sides of the Atlantic regarding the Internet and tech giants.

Apple store in Paris
Apple store in Paris
Bruno Alomar*


PARIS — "We have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that Europeans can't compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed by Europeans as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests." It was not Donald Trump who uttered these words, but Barack Obama, in an interview with technology website Re/Code in February 2015. And indeed, for several years now, U.S. authorities have been annoyed by what they consider to be repeated attacks on Washington's digital interests.

It is true that the French approach, and the European approach at large, is a rather constant and aggressive one. The latest development is of course the recent adoption by France, in the absence of a European consensus, of a tax intended to hit the giants of the American Internet — taking care not to affect French start-ups. The European Union has followed the same logic in recent years. It has used all the weapons of competition law against GAFA, from accusing them of abuse of a dominant position (see Microsoft and Google cases) to illegal state aids (Apple and Amazon). It has also built up an arsenal of privacy protection measures, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is primarily concerned with Facebook.

Washington never misses an opportunity to threaten the EU.

In such a context, are Europeans and Americans bound to be increasingly at odds, as digital technology deepens the rift between the two sides of the Atlantic? That would be a profound mistake — for several reasons.

First of all, Europeans and Americans have already enough bones to pick with each other. That is obviously the case at the economic level, through trade woes. While it's negotiating with China, Washington never misses an opportunity to dispense threats to the German automotive sector or to the French agricultural sector. At the military and geostrategic level, too, with Donald Trump following on Obama's aggravation with NATO's "free riders," by putting strong pressure on Europeans to spend more on their defense — preferably by buying equipment made in the U.S. And finally tensions also abound on the environmental front, with Washington's brutal withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Frenemies Trump & Macron in Washington — Photo: Chris Kleponis / Pool via CNP/ZUMA

In the face of their divides, Europeans and Americans tend to forget that developping digital technology will make them face the very same challenges. A privacy challenge first, which both sides are busy trying to solve. Another of these challenges is competition law, an area in which the U.S. administration seems to have been toughening its stance in recent weeks, as the EU did.

In this field, beyond the simplistic solutions of believing that the heavier the sanctions, the more effective and fair they are, competition authorities both in Brussels and across the pond will have to cooperate. The goal: to try and strike the right balance between protecting competition on the one hand, and on the other hand recognizing GAFA's exceptional capacity of innovating for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

How can we fail to see the essential contributions of the GAFA to EU companies and consumers?

Finally, let's remember that in digital matters, Americans and Europeans also have common interests. In a world marked by the rise of China and its digital giants, it is worth mentioning that Beijing knows how to defend its turf. And that the Chinese authorities' idea of respect of privacy and individual freedoms is at odds with the concerns shared by Americans and Europeans.

Can we imagine the collateral damage that would arise if a large part of the European market and its half billion people were to close? How can we fail to see the essential contributions of the GAFA to European companies and consumers?

All in all, the digital question puts the spotlight on the very nature of the relationship between the U.S. and Europe. Europeans and Americans should not be afraid to be in competition. They have a lot to lose by thinking of each other as rivals, or worse, enemies.

*Bruno Alomar is an economist and author of "Reform or Oblivion: Ten years to save the European Union"

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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