The development of computer technology and digitalization made it possible to mine and store a massive amount of data. It allows businesses to identify new trends which can be used to make better decisions and seize new opportunities.
Big data has become a powerful driver for economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, job creation and societal progress. The EU aims to reap the full benefits of “big data fever” and maintain steady growth of Digital Single Market. According to the recent study (http://datalandscape.eu/study-reports/second-report-facts-and-figures-dataset), the value of EU big data was more than €376 billion in 2018, accounting for 2.6 % of the EU GDP. With time-bound policy measures and favorable legal conditions, the value of the EU data economy can more than double by 2025 and represent more than 6 % of the overall EU GDP (http://datalandscape.eu/study-reports/second-report-facts-and-figures-dataset). Big data brings new opportunities and the EU is acting fast to bring predictable rules of games to the table.
The need for decisive steps and concrete actions firstly emerged in 2003 when the re-use of open public sector information (PSI) became legal for commercial and other purposes (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/open-data). It established a minimum set of rules and the beginning of ‘open data’ era. Transparency and fair competition became key components of the ‘PSI Directive’ (Directive 2003/98/EC) https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32003L0098. The focus of this initiative was primarily economic and it had a great impact on the further development of new services based on novel ways to combine and make use of public sector information (PSI). Open data policy came into force.
The next big stepping-stone was the launch of the EU strategy ‘Towards a thriving data-driven economy’ in July, 2014 (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/communication-data-driven-economy). It was acknowledged that “data is at the centre of the future knowledge economy and society” and an action plan was adopted. It was based on the following pillars: community building and developing framework conditions for the single EU big data market. Fostering open data policies, E-infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT) and personal data protection issues were covered in the new EU strategy on the data-driven economy (2014). A special attention was paid to the development of relevant data skills and infrastructures to the benefit of SMEs (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/communication-data-driven-economy).
Developing a common European data space and economy, the EU faced three main obstacles to data mobility within the EU in 2017-2018. Among them, unjustified restrictions to free flow of non-personal data from Member States, legal uncertainties and lack of trust from main actors. According to the survey (2014) (https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Cloud_computing_-_statistics_on_the_use_by_enterprises ), 38 % of SMEs in the EU-28 lacked trust in data mobility due to security risks. As a result, the Commission organized a number of public consultations with stakeholders to address the existing issues. As a result, the EU adopted a set of measures (outlined in Communication on “Building a European data economy”) to make a free flow of non-personal data across borders available and regulate new data technologies in terms of data access, portability and liability. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/policies/building-european-data-economy). Data privacy regulation was also put on the policy agenda, resulting in the adoption of GDPR and ePrivacy legislation. These measures were designed to enhance digital trust and protect the data privacy for EU citizens (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/policies/online-privacy).
The big data agenda transformed from an open access data issue to building a common European data economy throughout the past 15 years. Even though the efforts of EU policy-makers were intensified, the central concern has been still the same: the EU can lose its competitive advantage of a Digital Single Market if it does not build a data-friendly regulatory framework. European SMEs have a risk of losing the competition in global markets if they have limited access to data analytics and data. Financing and the relevan data skills are particularly big difficulties to SMEs that do not have enough resources to invest in the data infrastructure and analytical tools. The EU should take a more proactive approach to support digital transition and further develop the European Data Economy.
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Written by Aleksei Simonov, UIIN