4th Dec 2023

EU reveals 10 'critical tech' in bid to de-risk from China

  • The list includes 10 key technologies with the potential to: undermine peace and security, violate human rights, or harm the EU's interests (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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The EU Commission on Tuesday (3 October) took concrete steps to "de-risking, not decoupling" the bloc's economy, by publishing a list of critical technologies that Brussels wants to promote or protect from foreign powers — although without explicit mention of China.

The list includes 10 key technologies with the potential to undermine peace and security, violate human rights, or harm the EU's interests. Nevertheless, the commission will only carry out a risk assessment for four of them, in conjunction with the member states (and also relying on input from the private sector).

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The four technologies it considers more sensitive and posing immediate risks are: advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum and biotechnologies.

The EU executive said it plans to assess the risks first, and then focus on mitigation measures.

"Technology is currently at the heart of geopolitical competition and the EU wants to be a player, and not a playground," commissioner Věra Jourová said during a press conference. "And to be a player, we need a united EU position, based on a common assessment of the risks".

Following the disruptions to global supply chains after the Covid-19 pandemic and those following Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, the EU has shifted to a different approach. One that focuses on economic security and ensures a more resilient bloc in the long term.

"We will remain an open and predictable global partner, but one who nurtures its technological edge and addresses its dependencies," Jourová said.

The collective risk assessment for these four technologies is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

For the other six, the commission will have a dialogue with member states to discuss whether any of the listed technologies should be added or removed and what the next steps should be.

Once the assessment is complete, a decision is expected in spring 2024. For now, commission officials told reporters that this is just a first step before deciding whether to promote, protect or partner with other countries on these technologies — and when.

The list is not about technologies in which the EU will impose restrictions or export controls, as it is too early to prejudge further measures, a commission official told reporters.

The recommendation has been described by commission officials as "country neutral" or "country agnostic" — underlining the fact that China is not mentioned by name in the entire document. Jourová also said that the risk assessment will not be "country-specific" in terms of what dependencies or vulnerabilities each member state faces.

The EU executive is taking a country-agnostic approach to be comprehensive and assess all risks in these technologies, looking at vulnerabilities wherever they are, a commission official said.

EU commissioner Thierry Breton also stressed that the EU is not alone in setting up such lists. He cited similar strategies by partner countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom.

In parallel, the EU executive and the member states will also discuss what instruments the EU has at its disposal to reduce critical dependencies and keep sensitive know-how safe from rivals.

The publication of the list coincided with the European Parliament's approval of a new instrument to protect EU trade from third countries. 578 MEPs voted in favour, 24 against and 19 abstained at Tuesday's plenary session in Strasbourg.

"This instrument enables rapid reaction against coercive measures, against pressure from other countries," MEP Bern Lange (Socialists & Democrats) said after the vote. "We have introduced clear timelines and clear definitions to say what a coercive measure is and how to react to it".

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