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A few days ago, tech publication Re/code released a video interview with President Obama in which he said European regulators were purposefully setting up roadblocks for American companies in order to stop them from competing in Europe. He also said “We have owned the Internet. Our companies created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that [Europeans] can’t compete.”
I just returned from a week in Berlin participating in the Startup Europe Summit, and passion of the attendees at this conference made it clear to me that regardless of geography, the Internet is for everyone, by everyone.
The event was hosted by the European Commission’s Startup Europe Initiative, The Factory — a European Campus for Founders and Innovators, Google For Entrepreneurs, Berlin Partner, and Audi, and it brought together 600 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, non-profits, and policymakers to discuss the future of startups in Europe.
Not once in the participants’ discussions did I hear anyone mention the trouble with American corporations operating in Europe, or how pending regulations might help Europeans beat America or compete against it. Quite the contrary, American companies like Zendesk and Twitter and Google were present in the debate and side by side with their European counterparts, invested in these conversations.
Silicon Valley is the hub of innovation. We are lucky to be home to so many amazing companies and so much opportunity. We should share that and celebrate it, because the digital economy is global.
Yet the president’s comments about the EU’s regulatory efforts, which includes its work to push through a digital single market to help this new global market grow, didn’t illustrate that.
“Service providers who … can’t compete with ours, are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there,” he said in the interview.
After my week in Berlin among some of Europe’s brightest minds working on or directly impacted by these so-called “roadblocks,” this is disappointing to say the least. The digital single market’s goal is not to undermine American technology companies, and it will only continue to perpetuate our reputation as ethnocentric to represent it that way. The single market’s goal is to simplify policy from 28 separate regulations to one set of agreed upon rules, which if done right, will promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and growth in the EU and beyond.
We do have fundamental differences with Europe, and I wouldn’t pretend to believe otherwise. But outwardly stating that the EU “can’t compete” won’t help the U.S. in TTIP negotiations and won’t earn the president the respect he needs to be successful developing a trade agreement in the EU.
In fact, the EU can compete, and many U.S. founders are headed to Europe to start companies or expand their own. Yes, the privacy and data regulations the president touched on may highlight our differences, but they were not built to stymie the growth of U.S. companies abroad. Rather, they were built to ensure and protect consumer rights.
Discussions on the digital single market are clearly a step in the right direction to benefitting young entrepreneurs and increasing capital flow to Europe. One regulation is much easier to navigate than 28, and the goal of these conversations and these measures is to unite Europe, not to alienate America.
Melissa Blaustein is a cofounder of Allied for Startups, a global network of startup policy associations whose goal is to make the voice of startups heard in government. Allied for Startups counts 13 EU countries as members. She is also a former White House Digital Strategy Office Intern.