On March 16, 2022, a conference was held labeled PFUE "European Cloud Strategy: how to combine sovereignty and competitiveness?” moderated by Eline Chivot, Digital Policy Advisor at the European People Party. Pearse O'Donohue, Director of Future Networks for Directorate General Connect at the European Commission; Mathieu Weill, Head of the Digital Economy Department, DGEntreprises at the French Ministry of Economy; Francesco Bonfiglio, CEO of Gaia-X; Sébastien Windsor, President of Agdatahub and President of the Chambers of Agriculture in France; and Aliette Mousnier-Lompré, Acting CEO of Orange Business, discussed European advances in the cloud, drew certain conclusions and sketched out prospects for public and private players.
The need for European digital sovereignty
First observation: the development of European sovereignty in digital matters, of which the cloud has become the cornerstone, is now the subject of a broad consensus of public and private players. As Mathieu Weill reminds us, “The idea of digital autonomy used to be seen either as an unrealistic fad or as a means of artificially protecting national champions of American supremacy. That time is now over.” The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have confirmed the need to better control the huge amount of data we generate in Europe. “Digital technology is no longer limited to the economy, it is a global social fact,” explains Francesco Bonfiglio.
Putting an end to the black box phenomenon for the user
Sébastien Windsor illustrates the need for this data control with concrete examples from the world of agriculture. The yield data collected by a connected harvester is sent, without the consent of the user, to the manufacturer of the machine, which resells it to third parties. “They can then speculate on my returns faster than I can. My own data is being used against me! We ought to be able to decide where our data goes.” Digital sovereignty means ensuring that the storage and, above all, the processing of data obey "common rules and values of transparency, openness, reversibility, protection against extraterritorial laws and respect for the environment," adds Aliette Mousnier-Lompré.
Europe on the move
As Mathieu Weill believes, “the cloud is the mother of all battles!” Europe indeed appears to be the only relevant scale for building this sovereignty and imposing these values. In this European framework, public-private cooperation is essential. Aliette Mousnier-Lompré illustrates this cooperation through the strong involvement of Orange as a founding member of GAIA-X, of the Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud, and in its role as leader for the IPCEI Cloud project. At a national level, concrete data enhancement projects have also been set up based on partnerships with Agdatahub and the CNES for instance. Orange also spoke of its plan with Capgemini to create Bleu, a company that will provide a "trusted cloud" in France. Pearse O'Donohue adds that European digital autonomy is based on a virtuous circle where investment, regulation and cooperation combine to strengthen one another. The consortia, supported by European funding such as GAIA-X, allow players who were previously competitors to talk to each other and cooperate.
Innovation and trust
Everyone agrees that sovereignty cannot just be the magic formula. Above all, digital European projects must be competitive on the global market. “Companies will place as much importance on service as on sovereignty,” summarizes Aliette Mousnier-Lompré. Investments must first and foremost bring about innovation and, upstream, be used for training in cybersecurity, data science, etc. Confidence in European solutions will only be built around this ecosystem. It is not a sovereignty that builds walls but a sovereignty of openness, one that supports values. “We don’t have to settle for being less advanced than the Americans!” believes Sébastien Windsor, emphasizing that the solutions developed in Europe can be very innovative and competitive. This is the case, for example, for the European decision support tool in the fight against potato late blight fungus offered by the agricultural technical institutes.
The cloud…and the future
The sovereign cloud is part of a more global project where Europe, its industries, its political authorities and its citizens regain control of the entire digital value chain, from the production of chips to the processing of big data and artificial intelligence. “Half of the European Commission's mandate has focused in particular on laying down principles; they must now be put into action,” says Mathieu Weill. Beyond the cloud, the future is in edge computing, quantum computing, etc. “In addition to innovation and data security, compliance with environmental rules can also be a game-changer to impose a European digital sovereignty,” says Pearse O'Donohue.
The conclusion goes to Francesco Bonfiglio: “The cloud is already old. European players clearly have a card to play to be the next big names of tomorrow on frameworks that have yet to be invented.”