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The EU data landscape: Striking the balance between regulation and innovation

In order for Europe to take full advantage of cloud computing and the data economy, we need to strike the right balance between regulation and innovation. In the digital world the balancing act between business and regulation is a delicate one. In the past year we have seen the adoption of the new European General Data Protection Regulation, the invalidation of the Safe Harbour agreement for transatlantic data transfers and problematic discussions around its replacement the Privacy Shield.

Setting these developments into the context of the many ongoing initiatives at EU level aimed at encouraging innovation and the data economy, it is clear that getting the balance right is no easy task.

Europe is leading the way in data privacy and advocates a high level of data protection worldwide. The newly adopted General Data Protection Regulation introduces a new concept of responsibility towards data ownership, as well as new legal obligations for businesses to comply. For cloud SMEs and start-ups, getting up to speed can be problematic and they will need help.

A coordinated approach is needed between data protection authorities, policy makers and industry, in order to help organizations in this transition, by providing adequate data breach reporting tools, compliance toolkits and publicising the key issues. Let’s make sure that European SMEs and start-ups, so often the drivers of growth in Europe, are well placed to comply.

While the GDPR provides a high level of data protection we must remember that we are ever more connected through digital means and cannot think solely in terms of Europe. We are global users and exporters of digital services and need to have a strong cloud computing and data economy to be competitive. International data flows will play a key part in this. To avoid regulation clashes and to create international data-driven markets, in the future we should strive towards the creation of uniform, accepted standards of personal data protection on a global basis.

The recent agreement on the Privacy Shield for EU-US data transfers did not come a moment too soon and will hopefully bring the much needed legal certainty for the approximately 4,000 businesses who made use of the safe harbour mechanism. This legal assurance is vital. Many of these companies will rely on global information exchanges. Let’s hope that the provisions in the Privacy Shield can provide a robust enough framework to encourage data flows while providing high standards of data protection.

Global data flows are vital to international trade and economic growth and the European Commission Initiative on the free flow of data, expected at the end of 2016, should aim to enable European companies, particularly in the growing cloud computing sector, to be in the forefront of the global innovation race.

The Initiative should aim to reinforce the European cloud sector, so that companies are encouraged to develop new innovative services in the cloud, sell their services cross-border and enter the global market as exporters of technology.

This can be done by providing clarity on issues such as data ownership, liability arising from data use and data localisation across Europe.

If we really want to position Europe as a global leader in the data economy we need to ensure that we get the balance right. This means ensuring high levels of privacy while fostering new business innovation in sectors that rely on data and developing trust and confidence among users, from the individual consumer to the public and private sector.

Now is the time to move forward and encourage Europe to reap the benefits of data and the cloud.

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EuroCloud is an independent non-profit organization and consists of a two-tier setup where organisations form all European countries can apply to participate in as long as they respect the EuroCloud Statutes.

To act as a true European player, all programs that are developed are intended to be European activities. These European programs are the strength of EuroCloud as a whole. Respect to local cultures along with the will to promote a real European spirit.