The European Commission has launched an alliance 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 during an online kick-off event chaired by internal market commissioner Thierry Breton. This formally launched the operational work of the alliance, which at present gathers 39 European companies that applied to join via an open Commission call last July.
The alliance is to help in implementing the Commission’s cloud priorities as announced in the European Data Strategy almost two years ago (February 2020). These priorities aim to ‘enable access to secure, fair and competitive cloud services by facilitating the set-up of a procurement marketplace for data processing services and creating clarity about the applicable regulatory framework’.
An ‘Alliance Declaration’ lists objectives and deliverables such as an increase in the percentage of European enterprises using advanced cloud computing services to 75 per cent by 2030 and the deployment of 10,000 ‘climate-neutral highly secure edge nodes’ across the European Union (EU) by the same year.
Whereas cloud computing currently mostly happens in large data-centres, the Commission expects this trend will reverse by 2025: 80 per cent of all data is expected to be processed in smart devices closer to the user, known as edge computing (and hence the alliance’s name).
‘Enhancing the digitisation of public authorities’
The declaration references several times the alliance’s role to become a ‘platform’ in different settings. Examples include it becoming ‘a platform for leveraging investment synergies’, ‘a stakeholder consultation platform to the European Commission on common technical rules and norms for cloud services’, a ‘platform to create synergies with common European data spaces’ and a ‘standing platform for co-ordination between the Commission and EU member states on public sector cloud use and cloud public procurement’.
The alliance’s terms of reference, drafted last July, meanwhile state that the group will ‘serve as one of the consultation platforms for defining the EU Cloud Rulebook and provide expertise on common standards and requirements for the public procurement of cloud services’. Expected to be drafted this year, the rulebook is supposed to provide a single European framework of rules, transparency on their compliance and best practices for cloud use.
The terms of reference list the need to deploy ‘state-of-the-art solutions for the national public sector’ through a ‘smart procurement strategy’. This would ‘enhance the digitisation of administration and public authorities as well as solutions of e-government, including in fields with a high level of security requirements’.
The Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) is tasked with the facilitation of regular meetings of the alliance’s general assembly, as well as with the creation of a steering committee. Operational work is then split into working groups. The terms of reference paper lists several potential working groups whose establishment ‘should be considered’. Among five suggestions is a group providing advice to the Commission on the EU Cloud Rulebook. Another suggestion is a group ‘for member states public authorities only regarding common specifications for public procurement of cloud services, including in fields with high security requirements’.
According to the paper, member state representatives are invited to participate in the relevant working groups, ‘in particular those between the Commission and member states public authorities related to common specifications for public procurement of data processing services’.
Gaia-X co-ordination ‘where appropriate’
The alliance, whose first meeting was in mid-December, is one of several initiatives that have sprung up in the EU aimed at helping the 27-nation bloc to beef up its clout in the cloud space. One specifically mentioned in the alliance’s declaration is Gaia-X, the German-French initiative aiming to promote ‘European’ cloud data storage to rival those of non-European companies.
In its own words, Gaia-X is an initiative that develops a software framework of control and governance and implements a common set of policies and rules that can be applied to any existing cloud/edge technology stack to obtain transparency, controllability, portability and interoperability across data and services. Unveiled in June 2020, the initiative published a 15-page document titled ‘Gaia-X: Vision and Strategy’ in the same week as the alliance’s launch. Therein Gaia-X’s chief executive, Francesco Bonfiglio, elaborates on ‘key questions’ and ‘core values’ of the project before listing how Gaia-X ‘satisfies the needs and expectations of different stakeholders’.
Government institutions and ministries involved with the ‘implementation of secure and trusted national clouds could find in Gaia-X a new framework of rules, policies and labels that can certify the compliance levels required by their specific qualifications’, Bonfiglio writes. Ministries dealing with economic development and industry could ‘boost cloud adoption across Europe, a necessary element to develop an economy of data, by linking Gaia-X compliance to subsidies and procurement’.
The new alliance’s declaration mentions that it will co-ordinate with ‘relevant international initiatives, such as Gaia-X, where appropriate’.
EU’s financial supervisory data strategy
The Commission also just presented a new strategy to improve financial supervisory reporting across the EU.
The ‘strategy on supervisory data in EU financial services’, published last month, aims at tackling the challenges arising from the increased volume and complexity of digital data required to oversee the financial system.
The strategy’s main objective is ‘to put in place a system that delivers accurate, consistent and timely data to supervisory authorities at EU and national level, while minimising the overall reporting burden on financial institutions’.
“We are taking a leading role in international discussions to promote global data alignment for the digital economy to be effective, secure and accessible to all,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, executive vice-president for an economy that works for people.