The European Central Bank (ECB) has become a member of the Gaia-X Association, the international non-profit initiative advocating digital sovereignty for Europe, amid ongoing reform of the European Union (EU)’s data governance landscape to reflect the surge in digital data volumes.
The Frankfurt-based institution’s involvement with Gaia-X, whose full legal name is the Gaia-X European Association for Data and Cloud, will see the ECB contribute its IT expertise and participate in association’s governance as part of the overall objective of ‘building a European data ecosystem’, according to a short announcement on the ECB’s website.
Gaia-X has its origins more than two years ago as a German-French initiative with 22 founding companies aiming to promote ‘European’ cloud data storage ahead of non-European solutions. Its membership has grown to more than 350 organisations – mainly private-sector firms that either provide technology products or use them – including from beyond Europe.
The association states that its overall intention is to ‘give control back to the users by retaining sovereignty over their data’ and that its ‘outcome will not be a cloud’. It is striving to create a ‘federated system linking many cloud service providers and users together in a transparent environment that will drive the European data economy of tomorrow.’
Société Générale and BNP Paribas are among Gaia-X’s well-known members in the financial sphere. But the ECB, which sets monetary policy for the 19-member eurozone, is the first central bank to join. Gaia-X chief executive Francesco Bonfiglio told Global Government Fintech that the association’s members, particularly the commercial banks, were “very happy” to have the ECB “round the table”, adding: “The ‘data economy’ is a substantial part of the overall economy.”
Gaia-X framework, projects and ‘digital clearing house’
The ECB’s membership was announced during the ‘Gaia-X Summit 2022’, which was held on 17-18 November in Paris.
The event saw the association present the latest developments surrounding its ‘Gaia-X Framework’ as well as showcasing what it refers to as ‘lighthouse projects’. The framework has three pillars – compliance, federation and data exchange – which, the association asserts, will ‘concretely enable the next generation of the data-sharing economy’. The eight projects presented, which are in sectors including agriculture and automotives, are frontrunners in the adoption of a Gaia-X data infrastructure standard.
The creation of the first Gaia-X ‘digital clearing house’ nodes was also announced during the event. The clearing houses will be ‘one-stop’ (online) locations for organisations to obtain Gaia-X compliance clearance and will offer additional services to help users create ‘federations and dataspaces’, for example participant identity verification.
The association sees what it is referring to as its ‘GXDCH’ (Gaia-X Digital Clearing House) as creating sufficient market traction to make Gaia-X a ‘de facto’ data infrastructure standard. The first ‘release’ of the GXDCH will be available by end of this year for the lighthouse projects and a ‘generally available’ version will be available to ‘all that want to be Gaia-X compliant’ by the end of March 2023.
Christoph Schaper, the head of the innovation and architecture services division in the ECB’s Directorate-General for Information Systems, joined (remotely) a banking/finance-focused panel session during the Paris event. Thomas Skordas and Yvo Volman of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG Connect) were also among the event’s speakers.
EU data governance developments
Gaia-X is also building a government advisory board that has been chaired by the Government of Spain’s chief data officer Alberto Palomo since July.
Palomo’s role includes advising the Gaia-X board on EU member states’ public policy developments as well as ‘establish[ing] an overarching “data infrastructure” / “data layer” around governmental data, so that the appropriate departments can then work on data-driven policymaking,’ according to Gaia-X’s announcement at the time of his appointment.
The Paris event, and the ECB’s membership of Gaia-X, come almost one year after the Commission launched a separate initiative bringing together the private sector to encourage European cloud technologies and for lawmakers to accumulate advice on requirements and standards for cloud services, including for public procurement.
The European Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud convened for the first time in December 2021 during an event chaired by internal market commissioner Thierry Breton. The alliance, which has grown from 39 companies to 48 companies (as of September 2022), is helping in implementing the Commission’s cloud priorities as announced in the European Data Strategy almost three years ago (February 2020).
The EU is undertaking major reforms regarding the use of personal data against the backdrop of the data strategy. The bloc’s Data Governance Act entered into force on 23 June this year and, following a 15-month grace period, will be applicable from September 2023. Cloud-specific regulations are also on the way in the shape of an ‘EU Cloud Rulebook’.
‘European data alliance to tackle public procurement of cloud services’ – our news story (7 January 2022) on the launch of the European Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud