LEAK: Commission in bid for EU data sovereignty with digital decade targets

The EU executive's 2030 Digital Compass targets, due to be presented on Tuesday (9 March), highlight a series of benchmarks to be achieved by the end of the decade, as a means to help the bloc become 'digitally sovereign'

The EU executive's 2030 Digital Compass targets, due to be presented on Tuesday (9 March), highlight a series of benchmarks to be achieved by the end of the decade, as a means to help the bloc become 'digitally sovereign'. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission will try to mitigate the risks stemming from EU data being in the hands of third countries by outlining a series of 2030 objectives that will help the bloc procure next-generation data processing technologies, documents obtained by EURACTIV reveal.

The EU executive’s 2030 Digital Compass targets, due to be presented on Tuesday (9 March), highlight a series of benchmarks to be achieved by the end of the decade, as a means to help the bloc become ‘digitally sovereign’ by building up “technological capabilities in a way that empowers people and businesses to seize the potential of the digital transformation”.

One area the Commission has identified as being in peril with regards to the amount of autonomy Europe has in the field is the bloc’s data economy, with documents showing that 90% of the EU’s data is managed by US companies.

“Today, data produced in Europe is generally stored and processed outside Europe, and its value is also extracted outside Europe,” the communication obtained by EURACTIV states.

“While businesses generating and exploiting data should retain free choice in this regard, this can bring risks in terms of cybersecurity, supply vulnerabilities, switching possibilities as well as unlawful access to data by third countries.”

Edge computing targets

In this vein, while the Commission recognises that EU-based cloud providers have only a small share of the cloud market, in the future, a “growing proportion of data is expected to be processed at the edge, closer to the users and where data are generated.”

The shift from centralised cloud-based infrastructure models to new data processing technologies encompassing edge computing therefore calls for an increase in investment and development.

In this spirit, by 2030, the Commission wants 10,000 climate-neutral highly secure edge nodes to be deployed in the EU, “distributed in a way that will guarantee access to data services with low latency (few milliseconds) wherever businesses are located.”

The essential distinction between centralised cloud and edge computing is that the latter comprises technologies that process data closer to the source, rather than relying on remote data centres often based in foreign jurisdictions to process and store the data.

The Commission’s goals in the edge computing field in this regard are essential to be able to process data closer to home than is currently the case.

Connectivity: 5G and microprocessors

As part of the new targets, the Commission notes that achieving gigabit connectivity by 2030 is key, and in this respect, the focus should be on the rollout of fixed and mobile technologies, including 5G and 6G.

One concrete target is that all European households will be covered by a Gigabit network, with all populated areas covered by 5G by 2030.

The Commission also notes that it wants to increase international engagement on its connectivity targets, highlighting initiatives with India, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Latin America, and the Caribbean, in particular.

In terms of connectivity targets, the documents also note that ‘microprocessors’ are a key technology at the start of the strategic value chain for a series of next-generation appliances.

However, while Europe designs and manufactures high-end chips, the Commission says, “there are important gaps, notably in state-of-the-art fabrication technologies and in chip design, exposing Europe to a number of vulnerabilities.”

Here, the Commission wants by 2030 the production of cutting-edge and sustainable semiconductors in Europe including processors to be “at least 20% of world production in value”.

In terms of connectivity targets, particularly for next-generation mobile technologies, the EU has fallen well behind the mark over recent months. In the EU’s 2016 5G Action Plan, nations committed to a number of targets, including the launch of 5G services in all member states in at least one major city by the end of 2020.

Moreover, timeframes set out in the 2018 Electronic Communications Code legally bound member states to ensure the availability of 5G radio spectrum before the end of 2020. Both targets were missed, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, concerns over the security of next-generation telecommunications networks, and a heated campaign about the health risks of 5G.

Skills and public services

In the skills and employment field, the Commission wants to see “20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU, with convergence between women and men,” in addition to meeting targets in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which aims to ensure that at least 80% of the adult population across the bloc has basic digital skills by the end of the decade.

This should be accompanied by an increase in the digitalisation of business in the EU, with 7% of EU firms taking up cloud computing services, big data, and Artificial Intelligence by 2030, as well as doubling the number of innovative start-ups on the bloc.

In the public sector, all European citizens should have access to electronic medical records, and there should be a 100% rate for the online provision of key public services available for European citizens and businesses, in addition to 80% of citizens using an electronic European identification solution.

After the publication of the final text on Tuesday, the Commission is expected to commence a broad consultation process on the targets, in addition to setting up a stakeholder forum on the plans.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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