Gaia-X group signs corporation papers in bid for EU digital sovereignty

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The development of the EU’s landmark cloud infrastructure project, Gaia-X, received a boost on Tuesday (15 September) as the contingent behind the project put pen to paper on documents marking the official founding of the organisation.

The Gaia-X initiative has been branded as Europe’s bid to achieve digital sovereignty in the field of cloud infrastructure, an industry traditionally dominated by US firms. Many in Europe have held concerns that US involvement in the bloc’s cloud infrastructure could compromise data protection standards.

On Tuesday, the project, which involves 22 firms from both France and Germany, officially registered as a non-profit organisation at its headquarters in Brussels. Gaia-X aims to create an environment in which EU data can be shared and stored under European data protection standards, offering industry and citizens alike more trust in how their data is processed.

Altmaier's cloud initiative and the pursuit of European digital sovereignty

In October, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier is set to reveal more detailed plans for the establishment of a  landmark European Cloud initiative known as ‘Gaia-X.’

The long-term goal is to make the European data ecosystem more business-friendly, permitting smaller firms, in particular, the opportunity to scale up and compete on the global stage by harnessing the innovative potentials of data.

For his part, Marco-Alexander Breit, head of the Artificial Intelligence task force in the German Economy Ministry, believes that the Gaia-X initiative can go a long way in achieving the objective of European digital sovereignty – a priority outlined by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the start of her term in office.

In order to chart this path, Breit, who has worked closely on the conception of the Gaia-X project, believes that a three-pronged approach is required.

This includes offering EU firms an accessible way to migrate their data between interoperable platforms, fostering competitiveness through greater control over which companies manage certain data streams, and scaling up SMEs by building a broader ecosystem of firms with a liberal but protective data processing protocol.

In a similar move to chart greater autonomy from US firms in the cloud sector this week, Deutsche Telekom and France’s OVHcloud announced their intentions to offer a new cloud computing service for European companies and public sector bodies deemed of strategic importance.

“This new offering will address the specific needs of the public sector, as well as essential infrastructure operators and companies of all sizes operating in strategic or sensitive areas of public interest,” a joint statement from Deutsche Telekom and OVHcloud read.

And although firms from the US and China are welcome to take part in Gaia-X, Breit confirmed to EURACTIV that only European representatives are permitted to join the organisation as members of the board.

While the geopolitical angle to the Gaia-X project has been well-publicised, Breit says that now is the time for the industry to take the reins. Commercial founders of the project include firms such as BMW, Deutsche Telekom, Atos, Orange and EDF.

“I think today’s announcement shows that Gaia-X is not something that’s only born in the heads of politicians and strategists,” he told EURACTIV. “It’s something that has a clear impact on the business models of providers and users in Europe and around the world.”

Around 20 groups are currently working on applications designed within the purview of Gaia-X, across sectors including energy, finance, and energy. The system is expected to be in commercial operation during the first half of 2021.

The Gaia-X initiative is likely to play an integral part in the EU’s wider data strategy goals, announced by the European Commission in February.

Presenting the EU executive’s paper, ‘A European Strategy for Data’, Commission President von der Leyen said that within the EU’s industrial data stocks “lies an enormous amount of precious ideas, potential innovation, and untapped potential we have to unleash.”

In this spirit, proposals put forward at the time include the creation of nine common EU data spaces across sectors including healthcare, agriculture and energy, as well as the establishment of a Data Act in 2021, that could “foster business-to-government data sharing for the public interest.”

The executive also aims to facilitate both business-to-business and business-to-government data sharing, expecting a 2.8 fold increase in the value of the data economy from 2.4% in 2018 to 5.8% of the EU’s GDP by 2025.

Von der Leyen opens the doors for an EU data revolution

The EU is set to exploit the “untapped potential” of vast troves of industrial and sectoral data, allowing public and private actors “easy access” to huge reserves of information, the European Commission announced on Wednesday (19 February).

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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