European Cloud ComputingAs 2013 drew to a close, European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes published an article intended to be a landmark pointing the way ahead for the European Union’s regulatory authorities on the issue of cloud computing.

In her paper, she described as “shocking” the extent of online spying and surveillance, and labelled personal privacy as “a fundamental right”. But she also said that the old-fashioned ways of preventing spying – by passing laws – would not work in the technological age, because those looking to find methods of achieving their ends using technology would not be stopped from doing so, and would constantly be one step ahead of the law enforcement agencies.

A balancing act

At the same time, Ms Kroes said, Europe also needed to protect the values which were at the core of its existence, in particular the existence of a free market which placed the minimum of barriers in the way of trade between its member countries. “Such barriers would stop bright ideas from spreading,” she said, and would create the risk that experts from countries outside the member states would be the first to implement effective safeguards, which could, if their developers so wished, be used to exclude the EU from its plans.

A ‘European cloud’

This is the idea at the centre of what Ms Kroes is suggesting. But she was quick to insist that it didn’t mean setting up a continent-wide infrastructure; rather, it would involve applying locally-devised solutions across the region. Encouraging the harmonisation of such initiatives, said Ms Kroes, could be achieved through what has been called the Connecting Europe Facility – a funding scheme designed to supplement the continent’s single regulatory framework.

In time, this ‘European cloud’ could help bridge the ‘digital divide’ between countries with varying levels of take-up of internet connections.

A major area of concern, however, is the slashing of the amount of money available in the CEF, due to the need for deep spending cuts across the continent. Nevertheless, the European Commission is still committed to preserving the principle of the freedom of movement of citizens of its member nations “by providing seamless cross-border public services such as eProcurement, eHealth, or Open Data“.

It is therefore choosing projects to qualify for this funding on the basis of their “innovative business models or highly replicable solutions“.

Benefits for the EU and its citizens

The European Union realises that there are still gaps between the continent’s urban and rural areas when it comes to the amount and scope of services – provided either by national governments or the EU itself – which are available online.

This is why, alongside the development of cloud computing services, it sees a need to continue to invest more generally in enabling access to the internet for people whose economic or geographical situation make it difficult at present.

Making its own development funds and advice services easier to access online is therefore only the start of what the EU hopes will be successful efforts to move more data into the cloud, and so reduce everyone’s reliance on massive data centres – with all the implications which are attached to this for the environment and increasingly scarce natural resources.

Article WritingAbout the Author:

Johan Kemp is a freelance writer and data specialist, currently writing in conjunction with Lima Networks.