EU creates own cloud computing platform

The aim is for the European countries to form their own tech titan to break their dependence on US, China

Photo: AFP German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (L) with his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire.

With most hyperscale cloud companies being headquartered in the US and China, the European Union is looking to set up a cloud ecosystem of its own to enhance its economic sovereignty and ensure that it has complete control over data flowing across its Member States. 

The initiative, officially launched by Germany and France, will set European standards for data storage and will also function as a platform for businesses to search for data storage providers, in addition to offering a secure environment for the cross-business sharing of data in Europe.

The platform, entitled GAIA-X, is meant to be up and running - at least in prototype form - at the beginning of next year. 22 French and German companies have already signed up to back the non-proft project, including big names such as Siemens, SAP, Atos, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Dassault Systemes, and Robert Bosch. It is furthermore expected to be open to users from outside Europe that commit to adhere to European standards. 

"With the COVID crisis, companies massively shifted to teleworking. This makes the need for a secure and European cloud solution all the more urgent," French Minsiter Bruno Le Maire told a news conference by video link from Paris.

Along this axis, a recent study by the Synergy Research Group demonstrated that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only failed to inflict economic damage to the cloud computing market as it did to most other sectors, but has even had a positive impact, with Amazon and Microsoft being some of the biggest beneficiaries.

Le Maire also pledged that the new platform "will ensure the application of policy rules based on EU values and standards."

"We are not China, we are not the United States - we are European countries with our own values and our own economic interests that we want to defend," he said, while stressing the importance of "interoperability," allowing companies to switch easily to the new system without losing any data.

Meanwhile, Altmaier described Gaia-X as a “moonshot”, added that the project's success "will be crucial for Germany, for France and for Europe as far as our economic strength, our competitivity and our sovereignty are concerned."

However, that does not mean the door is completely closed to US firms for a certain level of involvement, although the association itself features European companies and is governed by Europeans. Altmaier noted that firms from outside the EU will have to abide by the principles of the project in order to be involved, which include openness, interoperability, transparency, and trust.

“We are strongly committed to making a lasting contribution to the success of Gaia-X as an important platform for digital value creation and strengthening of data-based business models in Europe,” US technology giant Microsoft said in a statement, adding that the company is also ‘in discussions’ about participation in the project.

Conceived last year and initially announced in October, GAIA-X follows on the heels of an existing push by the European Union's two biggest economies to set up a car battery consortium aimed at catching up with Asian rivals.

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