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EU plans Silicon Valley base as tech crackdown looms

The European Union is planning to open a San Francisco office to engage with Silicon Valley tech giants under close scrutiny from new digital rules, EU officials close to the matter have told POLITICO.

Some of the world’s most powerful tech giants are based in the wider San Francisco Bay area in Northern California, including Apple, Google and Meta Platforms. All face tough restrictions and more careful monitoring from newly adopted EU rules, such as the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act.

“The EU plans to open an office in San Francisco, oriented towards the U.S. West Coast including Silicon Valley, with a focus on digital policies and technology,” one EU official told POLITICO.

The EU already has a delegation based in Washington, overseen by the bloc’s foreign affairs branch — the European External Action Service. The new office in San Francisco is set to operate under the “guidance” of the Washington team.  

The EEAS could not provide more details on the planned timeline for the opening of the office. One official did confirm that “procedures are ongoing” to recruit staff.

The EU’s California love

One Brussels bureaucrat in the running for a West Coast top job is Gerard de Graaf, according to an EU official close to the matter. The veteran EU official leads the “digital economy and coordination” team in the European Commission’s DG Connect, which is responsible for developing the bloc’s digital policy.

De Graaf has some experience in the U.S. He served as trade counselor at the Commission’s delegation to the U.S. in Washington, D.C., from 1997 to 2001.

It’s not the first time European officials have tried to channel a direct line to Silicon Valley. In 2017, Denmark became the first country to set up shop in the Golden State, with career diplomat Casper Klynge being shipped off to California. The stint only lasted until March 2020, when Klynge took up a role as Microsoft’s vice president for European government affairs. Denmark’s global “tech ambassador” is now Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen, based in Switzerland, and the Silicon Valley office is deputized by Helena Mølgaard Hansen.

Parliament’s Silicon Valley jolly  

Meanwhile, a European Parliament members’ trip to Silicon Valley during the week of May 23, as previously reported by POLITICO, will include visits to the headquarters of Meta and Google, as well as universities including Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. MEPs sought — and failed — to get big tech bosses to pay them a visit in Brussels last year ahead of key decisions on new digital enforcement rules.

The May trip will be coordinated by Parliament’s internal market committee and led by the lawmaker who drew up Parliament’s position on the DMA, Andreas Schwab. The German politician sparked a political storm in 2014 over a parliament resolution threatening to break up tech giants if the commission failed to make progress on its antitrust probe of Google.

Schwab has since managed to make cross-party allies in Washington, many of whom advocate for a tougher regulatory framework for digital giants. A joint declaration praising the DMA was signed by Republican Congressman Ken Buck and House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee Chair David Cicilline.

Smooth sailing? Not likely

The EU’s foray into Silicon Valley comes at a time of greater U.S. interest in antitrust enforcement and more tension over digital regulation. U.S. officials have criticized EU regulatory efforts for focusing on U.S. firms and potentially opening up security vulnerabilities online, according to several letters seen by POLITICO. Apple CEO Tim Cook, especially, has consistently repeated concerns that an EU requirement to open up app stores to third-party developers could “destroy the security of the iPhone.”

The DMA outlines a series of dos and don’ts for Big Tech market abuses, while the DSA introduces broad new rules on illegal and harmful content online. Both texts have now been adopted by EU institutions.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misstated California’s nickname. It is the Golden State.

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