After Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Europe’s initial reaction was to throng to the US-led NATO alliance to give support to Ukraine in repelling Russia. Public opinion throughout western Europe swung heavily against Russia, fracturing existing Left formations. These effects led as far as Finland successfully applying for NATO membership and Sweden attempting to complete a parallel bid for membership. NATO itself, meanwhile, further extended its purview beyond the North Atlantic – now all the way to the Asia-Pacific. The war also drove a large increase in defense spending. Military outlays in Europe grew by 13 percent in 2022, with Central and West European countries spending a record $345 billion.
Yet, nearly from the beginning, cracks appeared in the veneer of European unity, and these have widened as the war has persisted. Turkey – not an EU member but a very important member of NATO – hosted negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to end the war in March 2022, only to see them quashed by the intervention of then UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Turkey also continued to hold up Sweden’s NATO membership, not only demanding a more forceful crackdown against the Kurdish Workers Party but also that the US sell it F-16 fighter jets. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, joined Turkey in opposing Sweden’s NATO bid; his pro-Russian views are well-known. The victor of Slovakia’s election, Robert Fico, has called for an end to military support for Ukraine. Poland, whose hostility to Russia is historically engraved, was initially perhaps the greatest war-hawk in Europe; but its attitude toward Ukraine itself has grown antagonistic owing to a grain dispute and, at least for the moment, Polish military shipments to Ukraine have been halted.
The US recognized the vulnerability of the European front from the war’s start.
Between the early 2000s and 2021 Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, tied itself closely to Russia by becoming ever more heavily reliant on Russian natural gas imports. Months after the war began, the US blew up the Nord Stream 2 pipelines, which were to carry still greater quantities of gas from Russia to Germany. This action resulted, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, “from fears in the White House…that Germany and then NATO, for economic reasons, would fall under the sway of Russia and its extensive and inexpensive natural resources. And thus followed the ultimate fear: that America would lose its long-standing primacy in Western Europe.”
With this act of sabotage against its allies, the US sought, with considerable success, to bring Germany back within the fold. To cope with skyrocketing gas and electricity costs caused mostly by the collapse in Russian gas supplies, Germany announced a “defensive shield” worth 200 billion Euros, to place a brake on consumer gas prices, while the country signed a second 20-year deal with US company Venture Global to import from the US additional liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Yet, German Chancellor Olof Schulz still remains cautious in adopting US/NATO priorities. He has tied the delivery of German Taurus long-range missiles to Ukraine – which some chancellery officials worry could end up moving Berlin “closer to a direct confrontation with Russia” on the grounds that they will require German technicians to operate – to the US’s own delivery of (ATACMS) long-range missiles. Moreover, French President Macron’s policies on Ukraine have been inconsistent.
With considerable trepidation, US foreign policy organs are openly discussing the question of whether Europe and the US will abandon long-term support for Ukraine. The EU is set to approve $53 billion to assist Ukraine; however, the European zone faces an economic slow-down. Germany’s economy, Europe’s largest, is expected to shrink this year, and the country has already announced (in July 2023) cuts to social services and most other parts of its government budget. Considering Europe’s increasingly delicate political and economic condition, continuing aid to Ukraine is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden voices his unwavering support for Ukraine; however, a growing number of Republicans, though historically hawkish in supporting US global militarism, oppose providing aid to Ukraine because they are driven by a nationalist ideology of “America first”: last week, they managed to force the omission of additional Ukraine military aid from a measure the keep the US Government running. If the US permanently reduces military support or other funding for the war effort, it is unlikely that the EU will cover the additional expenses.
The EU’s activities and initiatives in the digital sphere exhibit a somewhat less fraught and complicated dynamic. In this critical realm of the political economy, however, the EU is pursuing a genuinely independent policy.
Throughout the postwar era different European countries sought to establish national champions in the ever-evolving tech industry. These ventures were not successful. To the lasting chagrin of the French in particular, European computer manufacturers gave way before the US’s IBM. With the creation of the European Union, Europe continued to struggle to challenge US dominance in the information sphere. It remained unable to build a globally competitive information economy – though, during the 1980s and 1990s France’s Minitel seemed to signify that nationally autonomous information systems were feasible, until it was overcome by the internet. In fact, Europe’s dependence on US information systems often benefited both the US and US capital. Caught between the vice of US global platform companies and China’s emergent internet industry, however, the EU is now renewing its attempts to build and strengthen its own presence in this economically crucial sector.
Although it possesses an increasingly active venture capital scene in high-tech, the EU doesn’t boast any EU-based tech behemoths to compete with their US and Chinese rivals. To maneuver between the two power states, the EU is pushing a dual strategy – crafting global tech regulatory regimes; and creating space for an EU-based information industry of its own. The first strategy has been most successful, as the EU increasingly deploys its regulatory power to challenge the US as well as Chinese internet industry models. Anu Bradford describes this strategy as the “Brussels effect”: developing the “EU’s unilateral power to regulate the global marketplace” for digital services.
The EU understands that regulation, even if robustly enforced – which at present it is not – is not sufficient to gain full-fledged tech power. For this reason, the EU also has been subsidizing the EU-based tech sector. Some of its projects are small, such as an €8.5 million fund for Open Web Search project, an alternative to Google’s search engine, and committing €3.75 billion as part of the European Tech Champions Initiative (ETCI) to foster European tech start-ups. On the farther end of the spectrum is the EU Chips Act, which funds €8.1 billion for semiconductor research. As mentioned, Europe also hosts several dozen venture-capital backed tech companies with unknown growth prospects.
It is, however, the EU’s regulatory initiatives that claim pride of place in its attempts to carve out a place in today’s global digital capitalism. According to a 2019 survey, “the majority of tech policy was coming from Europe, either from the EU or from EU member states.” In 2018, a major data protection policy called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented across the EU. With this policy, any violators of GDPR would be fined up to $23 million or 4 percent of their global revenue, whichever was higher. GDPR was viewed as a model for other countries to limit personal data collection by the US tech giants. In 2021, the European Commission overhauled its internet regulations and proposed the Digital Services Act (DSA) which went into effect in August 2023, and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which came into effect in 2022. These expansive measures aimed to further tame the Silicon Valley tech giants and – prospectively – to create more open market conditions for EU-based companies.
Interestingly, while it has been aggressively attacking the Chinese tech sector, the US has been accommodating Europe’s moves and has sought a transatlantic tech alliance even as the EU continues to reshape global digital regulation. In 2021, US President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen formed the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) to coordinate tech and trade policy. At the fourth Ministerial meeting of the TTC this year in Luleå, Sweden, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Europe’s then digital commissioner Margrethe Vestager attended – and the US and EU reaffirmed their cooperation in technology issues including AI and semiconductors. Meanwhile, the US tech giants often seem to be complying with the EU’s expansive digital regulations (or acquiescing to large fines as a cost of doing business).
The EU’s new regulations constitute a direct challenge to encompassing US information dominance. Why then is there so little evident resistance from the US? Is the US government betting on the EU’s lack of an advanced technology sector, which will, de facto, compel Europe to continue to rely on the big US platforms (and their interlocks with US state agencies)? Or, considering the voluminous complexity of the EU’s new regulations, does the US government think that the US tech giants retain plenty of room – and resources – to maintain their dominance? Or, finally, is the US grudgingly willing to share some of its tech power with Europe in exchange for establishing a unified front against China and Russia?
For Europe, the challenges are also substantial. Will it be possible to craft new regulatory regimes without damaging its own domestic capital; to navigate between the economic poles of the two global superpowers; and to build its own internet sector to better compete globally – all while keeping a united front among all 27 member nations?
A swiftly altering reality suggest that at least some answers will be forthcoming soon.
— Dan Schiller and ShinJoung Yeo
 “World military expenditure reaches new record high as European spending surges,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, April 24, 2023,
 Ben Hubbard, “Erdogan says Turkey’s parliament will ratify Sweden’s entry into NATO if the U.S. sells Turkey fighter jets,” New York Times, September 26, 2023; Adam Samson and Richard Milne, “Turkey Calls on Sweden to Take More ‘Concrete Measures’ before Joining Nato,” Financial Times, September 30, 2023.
 Raphael Minder, “Robert Fico Wins Slovakia Election with anti-Ukraine Stance,” Financial Times, October 1, 2023; Henry Foy, “Why the EU frets over the prospect of fading support for Ukraine,” Financial Times, October 3, 2023.
 Sharon Weinberger, “In Poland’s ‘J-Town,‘ Soldiers Move Arms to Ukraine as Russian Spies Try To Stop Them,” Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2023.
 Guy Chazan, “Merkel’s Policies Left Germany Too Reliant on Russian Gas, Adviser Admits,” Financial Times, September 30, 2023.
 Holger Hansen and Kirsti Knolle, “Germany agrees 200 bin euro package to shield against surging energy prices,” Reuters, September 29, 2022.
 Derek Brower, David Sheppard and Shotaro Tan, “Germany locks in more US natural gas as it shuns Russian supply,” Financial Times, June 22, 2023.
 Bojan Pancevski, “Germany Stalls Delivery of Long-Range Cruise Missiles to Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2023.
 Emily Rauhala, “Has the war in Ukraine changed Macron? Allies would love to know,” Washington Post, October 4, 2023.
 Laurence Norman, “America’s Step Back on Ukraine Aid Puts Europe in a Bind,” Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2023.
 Melissa Eddy, “German Government Slashes Spending, Except on the Military,” New York Times, July 5, 2023.
 “Should the U.S. Keep Funding War in Ukraine? Debate Reveals Deep Divisions Within Republican Party,” Democracy Now, August 24, 2023.
 Pierre Nora and Simon Minc, The Computerization of Society (Cambridge: MIT Press 1981).
 ShinJoung Yeo, Behind the Search Box (University of Illinois, 2023), 159-172.
 John Thornhill, “Tech Entrepreneur Niklas Zennstrom: ‘Let’s Break the Silicon Valley Monopoly,’” Financial Times, September 29, 2023.
 ShinJoung Yeo, Behind the Search Box (University of Illinois, 2023),169-170.
 Anu Bradford, Digital Empires: The Global Battle To Regulate Technology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2023), 324.
 “European Chips Act enters into force today – Questions and answers,” European Commission, September 21, 2023.
 Nicholas Vinocur, ‘We have a huge problem’: European tech regulator despairs over lack of enforcement,” Politico, December 27, 2019.
 ShinJoung Yeo, Behind the Search Box (University of Illinois, 2023), 171.
 The White House, “U.S.-EU Joint Statement of the Trade and Technology Council,” May 31, 2023.
 Kim Mackrael and Sam Schechner, “America’s Tech Giants Rush to Comply With New Curbs in Europe,” Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2023.
 As argued by Bradford, Digital Empires.
 ShinJoung Yeo, Behind the Search Box (University of Illinois, 2023), 191.