A single European market for data.

Open, fair, diverse digital transformation.

Human-centric AI development and trustworthy technology.

Author Adrian Cirlig | Copperberg

These are the main goals unveiled by the European Commission last week, in a plan that will shape the future of the EU digital market. In the grander scheme of impending transformations, these actions and policies will give the EU a better grip on data behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and help capitalize on the full potential of Europe’s industrial data. 

Establishing the right regulatory framework for data governance is critical at this point. Data sharing incentives and clear access rules will be an important part of the Commission’s plan to make public sector data more widely available.

“Today we are presenting our ambition to shape Europe’s digital future. It covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. I want that digital Europe reflects the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the Commission.

A society empowered by data needs a role model, and that’s what the EU is aiming to become – a leader that supports the development of nextgen infrastructure with a robust regulatory framework. 

The strategy will also break into sectoral specific actions, the overall European market essentially splitting into nine smaller data markets: industrial (manufacturing), green deal, mobility, health, financial, energy, agriculture, public administration, and skills. The manufacturing data market will support the competitiveness and performance of the EU’s industry and help capitalize on non-personal data (estimated at € 1,5 trillion by 2027).

Europe’s deep industrial expertise to the rescue

The first wave of digital innovation has left Europe playing catch-up with Silicon Valley and Chinese state-backed tech giants, especially in social media, online shopping, and the smartphone market. But the Commission is confident the battle is far from over, and the next wave of industrial data seems to be the key to Europe’s comeback. Already equipped with the strongest industrial base in the world (particularly SMEs), Europe is in pole position to become a data economy leader. 

“Our society is generating a huge wave of industrial and public data, which will transform the way we produce, consume and live. I want European businesses and our many SMEs to access this data and create value for Europeans – including by developing Artificial Intelligence applications. Europe has everything it takes to lead the ‘big data’ race, and preserve its technological sovereignty, industrial leadership and economic competitiveness to the benefit of European consumers,” added Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market. 

Accelerating AI deployment will be essential in the coming years, and to that end, setting out options to build a legislative framework “for trustworthy AI”, as the white paper puts it, is one of the first action points. A follow-up on safety, liability, fundamental rights and data will be published by the end of this year. The overall goal is to mobilize resources along the entire value chain – through a partnership with the private sector as well as the public sector, including small and medium-sized enterprises.

An important part of the data plan will be the creation of an EU cloud platform alliance (2021 – 2027), which at the moment is in the concept phase. No additional information has been revealed about its functionality. As a pan-European initiative, this needs considerable investment, with the total funding expected to reach €4-6 billion. Out of this co-investment, the Commission will aim at financing €2 billion. Data-intensive companies, including the public sector, should benefit from this initiative and get a significant boost in their digital transformation.

Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, said: “We want every citizen, every employee, every business to stand a fair chance to reap the benefits of digitalization. Whether that means driving more safely or polluting less, thanks to connected cars; or even saving lives with AI-driven medical imagery that allows doctors to detect diseases earlier than ever before.”

The glue that holds it all together? – Strict regulations 

There are several keywords that pop up in the plan (and are also highlighted for good measure): trustworthy, democratic, people-centric. These goals can only be enforced by stricter rules, including cross-border data use, data interoperability and standards for manufacturing, climate change, the auto industry, healthcare, financial services, agriculture, and energy.

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said: “We see some platforms as gatekeepers, that is not what we want for our internal market.” As a key action on this front, the Commission will further explore, in the context of the Digital Services Act package, ex-ante rules to ensure that markets characterized by the dominance of particular platforms remain fair.

The Commission aims to enable a legislative framework for the governance of common European data spaces by the end of this year, therefore supporting decisions on what data can be used in which situations, facilitating cross-border data use, and prioritizing interoperability requirements and standards within and across sectors. 

“Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence” is on the horizon, and considering the push to incentivize AI deployment in the public sector, clear, stricter rules are definitely in the pipeline. The core of AI adoption will be the healthcare and transport industries, where technology is mature enough for large-scale deployment.

In typical European fashion, the future should be safe and fair, and on a global scale, competitive. If there’s one line that sums up perfectly everything we went through, it’s probably this one: 

The Commission will use all instruments at its disposal to ensure that everyone respects EU legislation and international rules to maintain a level playing field in the digital sector.

We’ll be checking the industry reaction in the next days. Stay tuned for our follow-up article.

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