Europe cloud plan addresses data protection problem. Sort of.

cloud over Brussels

The European Commission says its eagerly-anticipated new cloud computing strategy, released Thursday, could add 2.5 million jobs and boost the EU’s gross domestic product by €160 billion in the next eight years.

In many ways, this call to action, which also talks up green energy initiatives such as the use of a new  “3-C microchip”, echoes the US’ cloud-first initiative, unveiled two years ago. The goal there was to push government agencies to adopt cloud computing to make government more responsive and efficient.

As expected, the EC report touches on the hot topic of the region’s diverse data protection laws, noting that this “patchwork of different rules”  across countries impedes broad cloud adoption. The commission will work with the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) and other bodies to develop EU-wide voluntary certification schemes in the area of cloud computing (including data protection) and establish a list of such schemes by 2014.

In a statement accompanying the news release , EC vice president Neelie Kroes – who is also the bloc’s digital agenda commissioner – said:

“Cloud computing is a game-changer for our economy. Without EU action, we will stay stuck in national fortresses and miss out on billions in economic gains. We must achieve critical mass and a single set of rules across Europe. We must tackle the perceived risks of cloud computing head-on.”

Four key action items of the plan published on Thursday are:

  • Cutting through the jungle of technical standards so that cloud users get interoperability, data portability and reversibility; necessary standards should be identified by 2013;
  • Support for EU-wide certification schemes for trustworthy cloud providers;
  • Development of model ‘safe and fair’ contract terms for cloud computing contracts including Service Level Agreements;
  • A European Cloud Partnership with member states and industry to harness the public sector’s buying power (20% of all IT spending) to shape the European cloud market, boost the chances for European cloud providers to grow to achieve a competitive scale, and deliver cheaper and better eGovernment.

The report’s GDP growth estimate differs from one that had leaked in advance. According to Thursday’s release, the EC expects a net gain of  €160 billion by 2020 — or a total gain of nearly €600 billion between 2015 and 2020″if the full EU cloud strategy is in place. Without that, economic gains would be two-thirds less.”

The earlier, leaked figure estimated the plan would generate additional €900 billion in additional GDP by 2020. And, according to the report, “in terms of overall job numbers, we expect to see 3.8 million jobs generated following full implementation of the strategy, against 1.3 million if the regulatory and other policy barriers are not tackled.”

As GigaOM has reported, many cloud providers want clarity around European data protection laws, but hold out little hope for fast action, given complexities of getting the 27 nations to agree on a single plan.  It looks like their concerns were well founded and many are proceeding under the assumption that they’ll need to have presence in each of the major countries to ensure that private personally identifying information (PII) of individuals stays local as mandated by the strictest of the European laws.

This topic of European cloud adoption and data protection laws will be discussed in more detail at GigaOM’s Structure Europe conference in Amsterdam in October.

The full EC report is here.

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