16 March 2021

On 16 March 2021, EIF hosted a virtual debate on data governance to discuss the Data Governance Act. The debate, hosted by MEP and EIF Chair Pilar del Castillo and moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini, focused on this important set of measures. The following policymakers, experts and stakeholders shared their views:

  • Angelika Niebler MEP, EIF Steering Committee Member, Rapporteur on the Data Governance Act
  • Yvo Volman, acting Director for Data, DG CNECT, European Commission
  • Jonathan Selbie, CEO of Univrses (a 3D Computer Vision and Machine Learning company)
  • Stelian Brad, Professor & President of the Cluj IT Cluster, Romania
Data governance: How to ensure a fair & competitive data economy?

Pilar del Castillo opened the debate by reflecting upon the fact that we have entered a new stage in which data is the enabler for more personalised services and products, breakthrough research, innovative business models and more efficient public services.

In this context, the objective of the Data Governance Regulation will be to ensure that European citizens and businesses gain more control over their data. "Today’s debate," said the MEP, "will focus on the questions that may arise from the European Commission’s proposal, such as: the reuse of sensitive data held by public sector bodies, the framework for data altruism, the role of the European Data Innovation Board or the introduction of the providers of data-sharing services in chapter 3." The latter, “an interesting novelty”, said MEP del Castillo, but which requires further clarifications on their definition and role.

Angelika Niebler stressed the importance of the Data Governance Act and shared some thoughts with the audience. “We have a lot of data in the EU, but we are not fully exploiting their potential. We need a Schengen for data, a successful data ecosystem in Europe and the DGA is the right framework for that."

The concept of data altruism and trustworthy intermediaries, continued the Rapporteur, should be further defined and we have to ensure that SMEs have access to data and can benefit from these intermediary platforms. The overarching principle should be to make data sharing easier and frictionless, not harder and burdensome. The ecosystem will only develop with a trustful and accessible environment; legal certainty and interoperability must be ensured. Finally, MEP Niebler is “in favour of the European Data Innovation Board, where different stakeholders will have the chance to exchange expertise.”

According to Yvo Volman, we are at a pivotal moment for the data economy and if we don’t act now, we are not going to benefit from all the potential of data and new data technologies. Europe has a chance to be in the data game; the European Strategy for Data puts forward the vision of a common European data space, a single market for data where European values are fully respected.

We need rules to guarantee that the access and use of data are fair, practical and clear, and we need to invest in data technologies, infrastructures and skills development for experts but also across the population. Europe wants to be open but assertive: with the international provisions in the Data Governance Act, said Mr. Volman, "we want to make sure that public data is properly protected."

Jonathan Selbie brought to the stage the point of view of an SME, Univrses, working to gather data and get information about the world to help manage the public environment in a city. “In this time of history, there is the need for governments and municipalities to do more with less and the key is data.”

Nevertheless, as an SME, said Mr. Selbie, Univrses is really interested in understanding the framework in which they operate and, at the same time, it is important from a regulatory perspective to be crystal clear on the implications. “Ambiguity leads people to be cautious and not to act rather than to act; this is actually an inhibition to innovation and progress to help Europe being more competitive in the world.”

Prof. Stelian Brad seconded the opinion that the DGA is coming at the right moment, where there is need to build up in a concurrent way both the businesses and the framework they will operate in. In this journey, there are several questions: how SMEs, the core of European economy, will have access to data and how to avoid overregulation if the different providers of data are ready to deliver.

Because of the benefit of society and economy, added Prof. Brad, SMEs are very much looking forward to this, to see how best to regulate this market and put together different players. “It is a fundamental new market, a less tangible one but definitely the one we expect to have new positive streams in Europe.”

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