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AI in the EU: Balancing benefit and control

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When the president of the European Commission made her first speech to the European Parliament in December 2019, she officially recognized 'Artificial Intelligence' as an area of strategic importance for the European Union. Nine months later, addressing once again the European Parliament in her maiden “State of the Union’ speech”, she had moved from spelling out “Artificial Intelligence” to talking in terms of ‘AI’ – so well-known is the technology within the EU bubble now. This is not so surprising when AI is being deployed across most (if not all) sectors of the economy, from disease diagnosis to minimizing the environmental impact of farming, writes Angeliki Dedopoulou, senior manager for EU Public Affairs with Huawei Technologies.

It is true that much work has been done by the European Commission since President Ursula Von der Leyen and her team took office. Already promised in December 2019 was a “legislative proposal” on AI – what was delivered was an AI White Paper in February. While this, admittedly, is not a legislative proposal, it is a document that has kick-started the debate on human and ethical AI, the use of Big Data, and how these technologies can be used to create wealth for society and business.

The Commission’s White Paper emphasizes the importance of establishing a uniform approach to AI across the EU’s 27 member states, where different countries have started to take their own approach to regulation, and thus potentially, are erecting barriers to the EU’s single market. It also, importantly for Huawei, talks about plans to take a risk-based approach to regulating AI.

At Huawei we studied the White Paper with interest, and along with (more than 1,250!) other stakeholders, contributed to the Commission’s public consultation, which closed on 14 June, giving our input and ideas as experts working in this field.

Finding the balance

The main point that we emphasized to the Commission is the need to find the right balance between allowing innovation and ensuring adequate protection for citizens.

In particular, we focused on the need for high-risk applications to be regulated under a clear legal framework, and proposed ideas for what the definition of AI should be. In this regard, we believe the definition of AI should come down to its application, with risk assessments focusing on the intended use of the application and the type of impact resulting from the AI function. If there are detailed assessment lists and procedures in place for companies to make their own self-assessments, then this will reduce the cost of initial risk assessment – which must match sector-specific requirements.

We have recommended that the Commission looks into bringing together consumer organizations, academia, member states, and businesses to assess whether an AI system may qualify as high-risk. There is already an established body set up to deal with these kinds of things – the standing Technical Committee High Risk Systems (TCRAI). We believe this body could assess and evaluate AI systems against high-risk criteria both legally and technically. If this body took some control, combined with a voluntary labelling system, on offer would be a governance model that:

• Considers the entire supply chain;

• sets the right criteria and targets the intended goal of transparency for consumers/businesses;

• incentivizes the responsible development and deployment of AI, and;

• creates an ecosystem of trust.

Outside of the high-risk applications of AI, we have stated to the Commission that the existing legal framework based on fault-based and contractual liability is sufficient – even for state-of-the-art technologies like AI, where there could be a fear that new technology requires new rules. Extra regulation is however, unnecessary; it would be over-burdensome and discourage the adoption of AI.

From what we know of the current thinking within the Commission, it appears that it also plans to take a risk-based approach to regulating AI. Specifically, the Commission proposes focusing in the short-term on “high-risk” AI applications – meaning either high-risk sectors (like healthcare) or in high-risk use (for example whether it produces legal or similarly significant effects on the rights of an individual).

So, what happens next?

The Commission has a lot of work to do in getting through all the consultation responses, taking into account the needs of business, civil society, trade associations, NGOs and others. The additional burden of working through the coronavirus crisis has not helped matters, with the formal response from the Commission now not expected until Q1 2021.

Coronavirus has been a game-changer for technology use in healthcare of course, and will no doubt have an impact on the Commission’s thinking in this area. Terms such as “telemedicine” have been talked about for years, but the crisis has turned virtual consultations into reality – almost overnight.

Beyond healthcare we see AI deployment being continuously rolled out in areas such as farming and in the EU’s efforts to combat climate change. We are proud at Huawei to be part of this continuous digital development in Europe – a region in which and for which we have been working for 20 years. The development of digital skills is at the heart of this, which not only equips future generations with the tools to seize the potential of AI, but will also enable the current workforce to be active and agile in an ever-changing world: there is a need for an inclusive, lifelong learning-based and innovation-driven approach to AI education and training, to help people transition between jobs seamlessly. The job market has been heavily impacted by the crisis, and quick solutions are needed.

As we wait for the Commission’s formal response to the White Paper, what more is there to say about AI in Europe? Better healthcare, safer and cleaner transport, more efficient manufacturing, smart farming and cheaper and more sustainable energy sources: these are just a few of the benefits AI can bring to our societies, and to the EU as a whole. Huawei will work with EU policymakers and will strive to ensure the region gets the balance right: innovation combined with consumer protection.

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The billion-dollar disaster - China's influence in Montenegro

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Montenegro is building its first-ever motorway. Due to a huge loan scandal, it’s now become the country’s highway to hell. 40 bridges and 90 tunnels are expected to be built and financed by the Chinese. However, the project has been hit by corruption allegations, construction delays and environmental tragedies. Today, out of the planned 170 kilometres, just 40 have been completed, writes Juris Paiders.

The motorway is one of the most expensive in the world. It's financed by a loan from China loan. Paying back this money is creating problems. The story starts with Montenegro's former Prime Minister and current President, Milo Dukanović. He conceived the motorway to boost trade in the small Balkan country.

However, lacking funds to start construction, he accepted a billion-dollar loan from China in 2014. Other investors didn't want to get involved. Prior to this, French and American feasibility studies highlighted the risks of such an oversized project. The European Investment Bank and the IMF also announced that it was a bad idea.

Now, with the pandemic crushing Montenegro’s tourism-dependent economy, the country is struggling to find a way to finance the missing stretches of road.

The motorway should link Bar Harbor in the south to the border with Serbia in the north. The first section was scheduled to be finished in 2020, but it still isn't.

Politicians promised that the motorway contraction will boost employment in Montenegro. However, the Chinese contractor brought in its own workers, with no contracts or social security contributions.

An NGO backed by the EU is investigating corruption allegations involving subcontractors. Out of the huge loan from China, 400 million Euros were given to subcontractors, which some of them are linked with President.

In Montenegro people are hoping that there will be justice and someone should pay for this ambitious constructions plan. However, some fear that China has its eyes on Bar's deep-water harbor. When signing the billion-dollar-loan with China, Montenegro agreed to some strange terms, like giving up sovereignty of certain parts of the land in the case of financial problems. Arbitration in this scenario would take place in China using Chinese laws.

A long-term harbor concession would fit nicely into China’s “Belt-and-Road-Initiative”, a global infrastructure project to access markets. Harbor authorities in Bar are already hoping for an economic upturn and have plans for two new terminals.

The Chinese-managed motorway isn’t just mired in cronyism allegations; it’s also accused of damaging the protected Tara river valley. The ecology group 'Green Home', after several monitoring of Tara River, has concluded that impact of incompetent construction on river is disastrous. Sediment from the construction site is trickling into the water, preventing the fish from spawning.

Chinese managers have been accused of ignoring basic EU standards and Montenegro is criticized for failing to supervise construction correctly. Rubble has changed the Tara riverbed, perhaps irreparably.

Environmental experts proposed alternative layouts of the motorway that would have avoided the Tara valley, but they were ignored.

The river Tara is UNESCO protected and it should be forbidden to gravel the soil and sand, but this is happening there because of the construction work.

All over the Western Balkans, Chinese investment has slowed down EU compatible reforms. China’s silk road ambitions are not always in line with EU standards of good governance, environmental protection, rule of law and transparency. Their influence is creating a wedge between the EU and the Balkan states.

The opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU Reporter.

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EU-China investment deal stalls

Catherine Feore

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European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis confirms that progress on the investment deal with China has stalled following March sanctions.

The EU concluded what Dombrovskis describes as an “asymmetric deal” with China at the end of last year. Known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), it was presented on 30 December. 

Today (5 May) he said: ”There are substantially more new commitments from China as regards market access, with regards to the level playing field and this is something that European companies have been asking us for for many years. So as regards the agreement itself, that technical work is ongoing to prepare the ground for ratification.”

At the time of the agreement Dombrovskis said: “This deal will give European businesses a major boost in one of the world's biggest and fastest-growing markets, helping them to operate and compete in China. It also anchors our values-based trade agenda with one of our largest trading partners. We have secured binding commitments on the environment, climate change and combatting forced labour. We will engage closely with China to ensure that all commitments are honoured fully.”

Wider political context

When asked about whether the deal had been suspended, Dombrovskis said that the position of the European Commission has not changed. He said that the “ratification process of comprehensive agreement on investment cannot be separated from the wider political context. I will repeat that the ratification process cannot be separated from evolving dynamics of the wider EU-China relationship. And in this context, Chinese sanctions targeting among others members of European Parliament and even an entire parliamentary subcommittee are unacceptable and regrettable, and prospects and next steps concerning ratification on comprehensive agreement of investment will depend on how the situation evolves.”

The Commission faced much criticism when the agreement was reached, by appearing to move ahead of the United States, before the new administration had taken office. It was felt by some that the EU should wait to see if there was the possibility of finding common cause with the new Biden team. 

There were also accusations that the EU was ignoring China’s human rights record, particularly in relation to the treatment of the Uyghur muslim population in Xianjang province and the crackdown on the democracy protesters and the introduction of the national security law in Hong Kong.

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G7 to discuss decisive action to counter threats like Russia and China

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Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab meets with Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Kent, Britain May 3, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Nicholson/Pool
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaks at a news conference following a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in London, Britain May 3, 2021 during the G7 foreign ministers meeting. Chris J Ratcliffe/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a news conference with India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar following a bilateral meeting in London, Britain May 3, 2021 during the G7 foreign ministers meeting. Ben Stansall/Pool via REUTERS

Britain on Tuesday (4 May) sought to agree decisive action from G7 partners to protect democracies against global threats like those posed by China and Russia.

Hosting the second day of a foreign ministers' meeting in London designed to lay the groundwork for a leaders' summit in June, Dominic Raab (pictured) will lead talks among the Group of Seven wealthy nations on threats to democracy, freedoms and human rights.

"The UK’s presidency of the G7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats," Raab said in a statement.

In addition to the G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, Britain has also invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea this week.

Their first face-to-face meeting in two years is seen by Britain as a chance to reinforce support for the rules-based international system at a time when it says China's economic influence and Russian malign activity threaten to undermine it.

On Monday (3 May), having met with Raab, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was a need to try to forge a global alliance of freedom loving countries, though stressed he did not want to hold China down, but make sure it played by the rules. Read more

Tuesday's discussion also covered the coup in Myanmar, urging stronger action against the military junta in the form of expanded sanctions, support for arms embargoes and more humanitarian assistance.

In the afternoon talks will turn to Russia, including how to respond to a troop manoeuvres on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Raab said on Sunday he wanted the G7 to consider a joint rebuttal unit to tackle Russian disinformation and propaganda. Read more

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