EC Unveils Digital Strategy, Data Strategy, and AI White Paper

The European Commission (EC) has released a digital strategy, Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, along with two components of this strategy: a “European strategy for data” and a white paper on artificial intelligence. This initiative flows from the new European leadership and could significantly change how the European Union (EU) regulates technology and data in the future. However, much of the digital strategy hinges on yet to be developed regulatory and legislative initiatives, so how it is actually implemented remains to be seen. Nonetheless, given how the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) changed how privacy and personal data have been seen and regulated inside and outside of the U.S., the EU’s digital strategy bears watching as the Europeans seem intent on charting a course on technology independent of the U.S. and China.

Digital Strategy

The EC explained “[i]n her political guidelines, [new EC] President [Ursula] von der Leyen stressed the need for Europe to lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world.” The EC stated that over the next five years, it “will focus on three key objectives to ensure that digital solutions help Europe to pursue its own way towards a digital transformation that works for the benefit of people through respecting our values…[and] will also put Europe in a position to be a trendsetter in the global debate:

  • Technology that works for people: Development, deployment and uptake of technology that makes a real difference to people’s daily lives. A strong and competitive economy that masters and shapes technology in a way that respects European values.
  • A fair and competitive economy: A frictionless single market, where companies of all sizes and in any sector can compete on equal terms, and can develop, market and use digital technologies, products and services at a scale that boosts their productivity and global competitiveness, and consumers can be con dent that their rights are respected.
  • An open, democratic and sustainable society: A trustworthy environment in which citizens are empowered in how they act and interact, and of the data they provide both online and offline. A European way to digital transformation which enhances our democratic values, respects our fundamental rights, and contributes to a sustainable, climate-neutral and resource-efficient economy.

The EC claimed that “[f]or Europe to truly influence the way in which digital solutions are developed and used on a global scale, it needs to be a strong, independent and purposeful digital player in its own right.” The EC asserted that “[i]n order to achieve this, a clear framework that promotes trustworthy, digitally enabled interactions across society, for people as well as for businesses, is needed…[and] [w]ithout this focus on trustworthiness, the vital process of digital transformation cannot succeed.”

The EC listed a number of “Key Actions” the EU is already engaged in or wioll engage in to bring about this Digital Strategy, including but not limited to:

  • White Paper on Artificial Intelligence setting out options for a legislative framework for trustworthy AI (adopted together with this Communication), with a follow-up on safety, liability, fundamental rights and data (Q4 2020).
  • Building and deploying cutting-edge joint digital capacities in the areas of AI, cyber, super- and quantum computing, quantum communication and blockchain. European Strategies on Quantum and blockchain (Q2 2020) as well as a revised EuroHPC Regulation on supercomputing.
  • Accelerating investments in Europe’s Gigabit connectivity, through a revision of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive, an updated Action Plan on 5G and 6G, a new Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (2021). 5G corridors for connected and automated mobility, including railway corridors, will be rolled out (2021-2030) (2021-2023).
  • A European cybersecurity strategy, including the establishment of a joint Cybersecurity Unit, a Review of the Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive and giving a push to the single market for cybersecurity.
  • Initiative to improve labour conditions of platform workers (2021).
  • A reinforced EU governments interoperability strategy to ensure coordination and common standards for secure and borderless public sector data flows and services. (2021)
  • A European Data Strategy to make Europe a global leader in the data-agile economy (February 2020), announcing a legislative framework for data governance (Q4 2020) and a possible Data Act (2021).
  • Ongoing evaluation and review of the fitness of EU competition rules for the digital age (2020-2023), and launch of a sector inquiry (2020).
  • Create a framework to enable convenient, competitive and secure Digital Finance, including legislative proposals on crypto assets, and on digital operational and cyber resilience in the financial sector and a strategy towards an integrated EU payments market that supports pan-European digital payment services and solutions (Q3 2020);
  • Communication on Business Taxation for the 21st century, taking into account the progress made in the context of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to address the tax challenges arising from the digitisation of the economy.
  • Delivering a new Consumer Agenda, which will empower consumers to make informed choices and play an active role in the digital transformation (Q4 2020).
  • New and revised rules to deepen the Internal Market for Digital Services, by increasing and harmonising the responsibilities of online platforms and information service providers and reinforce the oversight over platforms’ content policies in the EU. (Q4 2020, as part of the Digital Services Act package).
  • European Democracy Action Plan to improve the resilience of our democratic systems, support media pluralism and address the threats of external intervention in European elections (Q4 2020)
  • A Global Digital Cooperation Strategy (2021).
  • A White Paper on an instrument on foreign subsidies (Q2 2020).
  • A strategy for standardisation, which will allow for the deployment of interoperable technologies respecting Europe’s rules, and promote Europe’s approach and interests on the global stage (Q3 2020).

European Data Strategy

The EC asserted that the “EU can become a leading role model for a society empowered by data to make better decisions – in business and the public sector…[and] [t]o fulfill this ambition, the EU can build on a strong legal framework – in terms of data protection, fundamental rights, safety and cybersecurity – and its internal market with competitive companies of all sizes and varied industrial base.” The EC claimed that “[i]f the EU is to acquire a leading role in the data economy, it has to act now and tackle, in a concerted manner, issues ranging from connectivity to processing and storage of data, computing power and cybersecurity. Moreover, it will have to improve its governance structures for handling data and to increase its pools of quality data available for use and re-use.”

The EC stated that “[t]he measures laid out in this paper contribute to a comprehensive approach to the data economy that aim to increase the use of, and demand for, data and data-enabled products and services throughout the Single Market…[and] outlines a strategy for policy measures and investments to enable the data economy for the coming five years.” The EC explained this strategy will launch “a comprehensive consultation on the specific measures that could be taken to keep the EU at the forefront of the data-agile economy, while respecting and promoting the fundamental values that are the foundation of European societies.”

The European Data Strategy is “based on four pillars,” and the EC has identified a number of key actions to realize the strategy:

A. A cross-sectoral governance framework for data access and use

Cross-sectoral (or horizontal) measures for data access and use should create the necessary over-arching framework for the data-agile economy, thereby avoiding harmful fragmentation of the internal market through inconsistent actions between sectors and between the Member States. Such measures should nonetheless take into account the specificities of individual sectors and of the Member States.

Key actions

  • Propose a legislative framework for the governance of common European data spaces, Q4 2020
  • Adopt an implementing act on high-value data-sets, Q1 2021
  • Propose, as appropriate, a Data Act, 2021
  • Analysis of the importance of data in the digital economy (e.g. through the Observatory of the Online Platform Economy), and review of the existing policy framework in the context of the Digital Services Act package (Q4 2020).

B. Enablers: Investments in data and strengthening Europe’s capabilities and infrastructures for hosting, processing and using data, interoperability

Europe’s data strategy relies on a thriving ecosystem of private actors to create economic and societal value from data. Start-ups and scale-ups will play a key role in developing and growing disruptive new business models that fully take advantage of the data revolution. Europe should offer an environment that supports data-driven innovation and stimulates demand for products and services that rely on data as an important factor of production.

Key actions

  • Invest in a High Impact project on European data spaces, encompassing data sharing architectures (including standards for data sharing, best practices, tools) and governance mechanisms, as well as the European federation of energy-efficient and trustworthy cloud infrastructures and related services, with a view to facilitating combined investments of €4-6 billion, of which the Commission could aim at investing €2 billion. First implementation phase foreseen for 2022;
  • Sign Memoranda of Understanding with Member States on cloud federation, Q3 2020;
  • Launch a European cloud services marketplace, integrating the full stack of cloud service offering, Q4 2022;
  • Create an EU (self-)regulatory cloud rulebook, Q2 2022.

C. Competences: Empowering individuals, investing in skills and in SMEs

Key action

  • Explore enhancing the portability right for individuals under Article 20 of the GDPR giving them more control over who can access and use machine-generated data (possibly as part of the Data Act in 2021).

D. Common European data spaces in strategic sectors and domains of public interest
In complement to the horizontal framework, as well as to the funding and the actions on skills and empowerment of individuals under A, B and C, the Commission will promote the development of common European data spaces in strategic economic sectors and domains of public interest. These sectors or domains are those where the use of data will have systemic impact on the entire ecosystem, but also on citizens.

Key action

  • Create a framework to measure data flows and estimate their economic value within Europe, as well as between Europe and the rest of the world, Q4 2021.

AI White Paper

The EC released the latest policy pronouncement on artificial intelligence, “On Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and trust,” in which the Commission articulates its support for “a regulatory and investment oriented approach with the twin objective of promoting the uptake of AI and of addressing the risks associated with certain uses of this new technology.” The EC stated that “[t]he purpose of this White Paper is to set out policy options on how to achieve these objectives…[but] does not address the development and use of AI for military purposes.” The EC is accepting comments until May 19, 2020, most of which will be made public. The EC explained that the “main building blocks of this White Paper are:

  • The policy framework setting out measures to align efforts at European, national and regional level. In partnership between the private and the public sector, the aim of the framework is to mobilise resources to achieve an ‘ecosystem of excellence’ along the entire value chain, starting in research and innovation, and to create the right incentives to accelerate the adoption of solutions based on AI, including by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
  • The key elements of a future regulatory framework for AI in Europe that will create a unique ‘ecosystem of trust’. To do so, it must ensure compliance with EU rules, including the rules protecting fundamental rights and consumers’ rights, in particular for AI systems operated in the EU that pose a high risk. Building an ecosystem of trust is a policy objective in itself, and should give citizens the confidence to take up AI applications and give companies and public organisations the legal certainty to innovate using AI. The Commission strongly supports a human-centric approach based on the Communication on Building Trust in Human-Centric AI8 and will also take into account the input obtained during the piloting phase of the Ethics Guidelines prepared by the High-Level Expert Group on AI.

In conjunction with the release of the white paper, the EC issued a “Report on the safety and liability implications of Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and robotics” that assesses the legal backdrop of the EU visa vis AI and could serve to inform and guide legislative changes to regulate AI.

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