The European Union should invest in the data economy in order to strengthen its competitiveness and economic security, says Sitra in a new working paper.
During the mandate of the next European Commission (2024–2029), the development of most important critical technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum technologies, should be supported. Europe should ensure its self-sufficiency in providing trustworthy, general-purpose AI solutions. Decoupling from over-consumption of natural resources through a circular economy requires the use of data to support the transition. In addition, the skills of people and businesses to operate in a data-driven society should be strengthened.
A new working paper from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Ensuring European leadership in the data economy – Ten priorities for the European Union, provides an overview of the needs for the reform of EU data and technology policy. It highlights the key areas of EU policy that should receive attention during the next five-year term of the Commission. In total, the working paper makes 28 policy recommendations in a wide range of areas of the data economy.
The next European elections will be in June 2024 and the new Commission will take office at the end of 2024. The Commission’s work programme is already being prepared.
Ensuring European leadership in the fair data economy
Europe has caught up with China and the US in developing the digital and data economy, but there is still some way to go. In the race to dominate the digital world, Europe’s trump card has been to build a fairer data-driven economy and society that protects the rights of service users and ensures that businesses of all sizes can thrive.
Sitra proposes that the European Commission should continue to implement the 2020 data strategy and the resulting new regulation. The five key pieces of EU legislation (Digital Markets Act, Digital Services Act, Data Act, Data Governance Act and Artificial Intelligence Act) have created a set of rules for fairer use of data. According to Kristo Lehtonen, Director of the Fair Data Economy theme at Sitra, the EU has successfully used the power of its single market to enact groundbreaking legislation.
“The next few years will be very important, as only effective implementation of regulation can ensure Europe’s future competitiveness,” says Lehtonen, who is one of the authors of the working paper.
The current strategy needs to be developed and updated to help strengthen the competitiveness of Finnish and European companies in a changing geopolitical context.
The working paper provides policy recommendations for the development of a data-driven society in Europe. It aims to launch a broad dialogue between different stakeholders on the future direction of the European Data Strategy.
Developing trustworthy generative AI for Europe
Generative AI offers new solutions for improving work efficiency and developing services. The EU should be able to develop generative AI itself.
“Strengthening Europe’s own capabilities, or strategic autonomy, should be a political objective. The EU cannot remain dependent on a few digital giants for generative AI. Let’s not repeat the mistakes made with digital giants in the past,” says Lehtonen.
For example, Europe should have large language models developed in Europe that are open source and can be freely used by different actors. The development of reliable European large language models is important because it makes it easier for companies to develop their own applications and commercial services on top of these models, such as foundational models. The major language models should be available as open source in all official EU languages.
Sitra also proposes that key technologies such as artificial intelligence, semiconductors, 6G, cybersecurity, quantum technologies and high-performance computing should be developed more strategically in Europe to ensure the security and competitiveness of the European economy. The Commission should also accelerate the development and deployment of digital product passports, for example, to support the green transition. These will allow reliable information on product materials and properties, including repair and recycling options, to be collected and shared.
Finland has much to contribute to clarifying the direction of the European data economy
The government of Petteri Orpo has stated that the full potential of digitalisation and artificial intelligence should be exploited. Finland’s strategic choices to promote the data economy must be made in the context of the European Union, building on national strengths.
Sitra and key actors building the data economy have already argued that Finland’s influence in the EU requires clear objectives shared by the private and public sectors. EU initiatives need to be influenced at a sufficiently early stage.
“Finland and Finnish actors have a lot to contribute to the debate on the guidelines for the European data economy. Finland has already developed pioneering solutions to critical issues for Europe’s future. These can be found, for example, in trustworthy artificial intelligence, data-driven circular economy solutions such as digital product passports, and strengthening people’s digital literacy,” says Laura Halenius, Project Director at Sitra. Halenius is one of the authors of the working paper and leads Sitra’s Data and Competitiveness project, which aims to help Finland innovate and succeed by embracing the opportunities of the data economy.
In May 2023, Sitra published its proposal to the European Commission to put nature at the heart of decision-making and to continue the European Green Deal.
Sitra’s working paper: Ensuring European leadership in the data economy – Ten priorities for the European Union
The national Roadmap for a Fair Data Economy
Sitra’s memorandum (2023): Putting nature at the heart of the European Green Deal – Building blocks for the next European Commission