Building a European Cloud: a necessary but difficult challenge


The EU now has its ‘moonshot’ for the next decade. The German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier, used this term, which is shorthand for projects that are very ambitious both in time and investment, to refer to GAIA-X, the european cloud services platform that the two strongest governments in the EU, Germany and France, are launching. 

The first step has been the creation of a non-profit organization, based in Brussels, having a budget of 1.5 million euros. The initiative is backed by many of the most important European companies, among them Amadeus, Orange, SAP and Siemens, and is expected to be operational in 2021. 

What is GAIA-X?

Many aspects are still to be specified, but GAIA-X will be a platform, not a cloud services provider. This platform will be governed by common standards for data storage and processing, located on servers within European Union territory and, of course, 100% in accordance with its regulations, especially with regard to user privacy. This is about ensuring security, but also ease of use, interoperability and value creation, reflecting European values in crucial areas such as data protection and transparency. 

Why an European Cloud? 

From a geopolitical perspective, GAIA-X’s main objective is as ambitious as it is complicated. It has to do with building a European alternative to the huge dominance of the big tech companies in the crucial cloud computing market. According to Gartner Consulting, Amazon Web Services dominates the market with a 47.8% share, followed by Microsoft, with Microsoft Azure, which has 15.5%. The other two industry leaders, with a share below 10%, are Google and China’s Alibaba.

This market situation currently leaves Europe and its companies completely dependent on actors having their own interests.

Entrepreneurially, GAIA-X will also try to contribute to encouraging innovation in Europe, creating a cloud ecosystem that will, in turn, allow the creation of new companies. Cloud computing is essential for the development of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data applications.    

Our Opinion

In line with our comments on the European Data Strategy, which has just been submitted for public consultation, those of us at the European Association for Digital Transition support the creation of innovative scenarios in Europe that try to challenge the current market position of the international technological giants. 

In a world of growing complexity, heightened by the coronavirus crisis, political speeches about ‘independence’ or ‘sovereignty’ in regard to foreign actors must be accompanied by investment and ambition. The drivers of the data economy should merit the trust of European citizens. And the EU has powerful and competent companies to carry out the technological developments it needs.

One aspect of GAIA-X is especially interesting: the integration of efforts between the different Member States in order to share their advances. This is, in our Association’s view, very relevant for European companies, as it lessens the economic costs of the learning curve. And citizens also benefit from lower market prices. 

In 2020, pessimists have good reason to think that Europe is arriving late to the cloud computing battle. But better late than never, especially when we are talking about a technology that feeds future development of the digital economy. Which is why it is time to get to work.