• Roberto Viola profile picture
    Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission

    Roberto Viola

As all our lives become more connected, and we increasingly rely on digital technologies for so much of what we do, trust in the integrity and safety of the systems and services we use has become more important than ever. The EU is well-placed to be a leader in championing trusted digital services, as I stressed in my video message to the Delta blockchain and digital innovation summit today in Malta.

In Malta and across the world, blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) are changing the way citizens and organisations collaborate, share information, execute transactions and deliver services.

This technology promotes trust making it possible to share on-line information, agree on and record transactions in a verifiable, secure and permanent way. And trust is ever more important for citizens (who want to protect their valuable personal data), companies (who increasingly digitalise services and assets), and governments.

Trust is becoming the most valuable – and coveted - commodity in the digital economy and society. This trend places blockchain at the heart of our future strategy in Europe.

We don't yet know for sure, to what degree blockchain may revolutionise the future internet. But we know for sure that it is increasingly permeating our everyday lives, and it will continue to impact on the way we communicate and interact with digital services.

Blockchain is an opportunity for Europe and its Member States to re-think information systems, promote user trust and the protection of personal data. This will create new business opportunities and can establish new areas of leadership for digital applications that benefit citizens, public services and companies.

And Europe is incredibly well placed to take a global leadership position in the development of new trusted services and applications based on blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. The FinTech sector is a good example, with Europe hosting a wealth of challenger Fintech hotspots and hubs.

The public sector in Europe is also very actively engaged in blockchain and DLT innovation, with many initiatives emerging across Europe:

  • From enhancing supply chain and customs' clearance processes in our ports
  • To helping preserve the integrity of our democratic processes through secure "Vote counting" systems in local elections
  • Or helping manage energy consumption and production

EU countries working together on blockchain

But we will not seize this opportunity by accident or by chance. It will not happen unless we work together. Let me elaborate on what we are working on to bring blockchain and distributed ledger technologies to the forefront of our digitals strategies.

The Commission launched the EU Blockchain Observatory in February 2018 involving private stakeholders and public authorities in technical and regulatory discussions about the future development of blockchain in Europe.

Today this organisation aggregates over 1000 stakeholders, most of them are recognised global experts in different fields of application of blockchain and DLT. We are bringing together the leading global "brains" behind blockchain innovation to help us identify obstacles and find solutions to overcome them!

On 10 April 2018, 23 European countries agreed through a joint declaration to form the European Blockchain Partnership and to cooperate in the establishment of a trusted European Blockchain Services Infrastructure. Other Member States have joined since and they are now 26 plus Norway.Malta is one of the 26 EU countries that have so far joined this initiative and representatives from these countries are already working together in a spirit of real EU cooperation to develop this European Blockchain Services Infrastructure.

This infrastructure will be scalable and support the delivery of cross-border digital public services, with the highest standards of security, privacy and energy efficiency. We want it to become a global reference. Together, the European Blockchain Partnership is developing a governance model to ensure that this infrastructure will be governed in a transparent multi-stakeholder format. Where public authorities, industry and civil society can all play a role in the future development of blockchain technology and blockchain-enabled digital services.

Financial support and regulations fit-for-purpose

The European Commission has already invested more than €80 million in projects supporting the use of blockchain in technical and societal areas. Up to €300 million could be further invested through different Union instruments, to ensure that Europe will maintain a global lead in innovation.

We are proposing new investments in the Digital Europe Programme, on Artificial Intelligence (AI), High Performance Computing (HPC), cybersecurity, digitisation of services, including for the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure and major investments in advanced digital skills – ensuring that our citizens are well-equipped to seize the opportunities of the digital economy and our companies can fill the 400,000 job vacancies available in areas requiring advanced technology competencies.

Finally, we will never achieve our goals without a regulatory framework that is fit-for-purpose. As the technology evolves, new questions emerge about the status of smart-contracts or the liability regime of blockchain infrastructures. It is only by working together to realise the Digital Single Market that we will succeed in overcoming these challenges and seize on the potential of blockchain technology.

We will continue our work across sectors, departments and across-borders to lay down the right conditions, not only with an appropriate legislative framework but also ensuring we develop in Europe a favourable technological and digital environment that facilitates experimentation and helps reduce uncertainties when we innovate.

Blockchain may not be the panacea that will resolve all our challenges. But it is an opportunity that we cannot overlook. An opportunity for EU businesses to lead in new trusted business models, for public services to deliver better, more innovative trusted services to our citizens. Blockchain is above all an opportunity for Europe to lead. But to lead in accordance with our legal principles and our European values.