By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – Europe may have lost the battle to create digital champions capable of taking on U.S. and Chinese companies harvesting personal data, but it can win the war of industrial data, Europe’s industry policy chief said on Saturday.
Vast troves of data from how fast we drive our cars to how much time a robot needs to churn out products will open a new front in the battle for digital dominance, said Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner in charge of the bloc’s single market.
Alarmed by the dominance of U.S. and Chinese tech companies such as Google, Amazon or Huawei, the European Commission is leaving behind the “laissez-faire” attitude of the early 2000s and ratcheting up regulatory pressure to protect its businesses.
The new approach will be on display on Wednesday when Breton unveils the bloc’s new data and artificial intelligence strategy.
“We’re entering a new phase. The battle for industrial data starts now, and the main battlefield will be Europe,” Breton, a former French finance minister, told Reuters in an interview.
Breton said the EU had a unique opportunity to win the next phase of the digital revolution centered on the harvesting, management and analysis of data from factories, transport, energy and healthcare.
“Europe is the world’s top industrial continent. The United States have lost much of their industrial know-how in the last phase of globalisation. They have to gradually rebuild it. China has added-value handicaps it is correcting,” Breton said.
“But the bulk of the industrial value chain, from large groups to SMEs, is based in Europe today. That’s why all eyes are on Europe right now,” he added.
The commissioner, who was speaking from the Munich security conference where he met the chief executive of Microsoft before meeting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels on Monday, is keen for Europe to take a more assertive approach.
“In this sector, tomorrow’s winners won’t necessarily be today’s winners,” he said, adding that the big cloud platforms that exist today will probably be replaced by more decentralized and secure “mini-clouds”.
A former CEO of French IT giant Atos and telecoms group Orange, Breton said the European Commission would unveil a three-pronged approach on Wednesday, consisting of tighter regulations, infrastructure investment and sector-specific strategies.
Reuters exclusively reported on Jan 29 a 25-page draft document outlining the measures to create a single market in data, that could still be tweaked ahead of the Feb. 19 presentation.
It will include an array of new rules covering cross-border data use, data interoperability and standards.
The document also proposes scrapping competition rules which hinder data sharing and possibly introducing rules to prevent large online platforms from unilaterally imposing conditions for access.
Europe will remain open to non-European companies but wants to use the heft of its industrial base to set its own rules before other continents do, Breton said.
“Europe is not naive, it can very well see what’s going on. That’s why we have to organize ourselves now, including when it comes to the deployment of the first 5G networks,” he said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Christina Fincher)