The European way to data economy. Taking stock and looking ahead

Policy Brief
I-Com
data economy

Starting from the share of data economy on EU’s GDP, amounting to 2.6%, the non-economic aspect of the issue was highlighted, including the relevance of data for the healthcare sector, i.e. in ensuring better therapies, developing vaccines, setting tools to react to crisis and emergency situations. Four main points were identified as key elements to be considered while assessing the current scenario of data in the EU: i) interoperability, as a powerful tool to fight fragmentation, both within EU Member States and at the EU level; ii) co-opetition, i.e. the need to strike a balance between competition and cooperation when it comes to data sharing and governance; 3) the importance of encouraging the development of a new set of skills for workers, technicians and young people entering the labour market; 4) the need to develop a framework in which European Digital Sovereignty could be effectively delivered, both in terms of infrastructures and new technologies, taking into account the importance of investments and international competition

Investing in data is key to achieving the digital transformation. To achieve a successful digital transformation for economy and society, participants agreed that Europe must seize on the opportunity to capture, store and benefit from available data. This means developing new technologies and infrastructures, summed up in a clear legal framework and the right skills, so that all Europeans may profit from the potential that data can give to our economies and societies. The ambition of making the EU a leader in showing the way comes with the need to stimulate investments in key areas.

By the numbers. In the next seven years, the Commission will contribute to the development of common data spaces across Europe with an investment of €2.7 billion under the Digital Europe Programme – more than €700 million in 2021-22. As well, 20% of the Recovery Fund (i.e. €130 billion) will be dedicated to digital, as a starting injection to build a proper European data infrastructure, made up of cloud services, platform software and skills development (an example of this effort is that of France and Germany in launching Gaia-X). An additional €100 million per year will be allocated through Horizon Europe and Connecting Europe Facility to trigger investments in advanced skills in the field of data and artificial intelligence.

The state of the (legislative) art. Three main pieces of legislation currently provide the legislative framework for data – the GDPR, the Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data and the Open Data Directive. An in-depth overview of the main steps taken by the von der Leyen Commission was presented, highlighting aspects to be further developed, and anticipating the next steps foreseen by the Commission’s Work Programme for 2021. To ensure a coherent and comprehensive approach, a set of actions has already been laid down by the Data Strategy (February 2020) and will be complemented by i.a. the regulation on data governance (Q4 2020) and the Data Act (Q3 2021).

Towards the Data Act. A framework enabling the safe and effective sharing and reusing of data is still missing in Europe. Increasing clarity over terms of use and reuse, authorised actors and authorities in charge of enforcing and monitoring compliance is what the Commission aims to set within the framework of the Data Act. Conditions for donation of data will be specified as well, whether it be donated by companies, associations or the public sector. Rules to be applied to intermediaries in facilitating the sharing, mainly between private actors, should be clearly determined in order to create a secure and clear legal framework. A framework for the exploitation of data concerning competition rules, market fairness and asymmetries in the exploitation and use of data will also be taken into account. This will be mainly done through the DSA package (Q4 2020) and partially also by the Data Act.

Covid-19 lessons learnt. The importance of data and information for economic development and wellbeing is clearly undeniable and healthcare is undoubtedly the sector in which this is becoming more evident. Although the Covid-19 experience has revealed the resilience of the Union, it has shown the existing gaps and difficulties in collecting, analysing and sharing data in times of emergency. While the role played by data applications is undeniable, e.g. in matching existing molecules with genomic features of the virus, it is evident that a more effective and quick deployment of tools will be required in the near future. The Commission’s decision to prioritise the creation of the Health Data Space (Q4 2021) over other sectors will be considered in this light.