The smart use of data can have a transformative effect on all sectors of the economy and can create new opportunities for economic growth, including for small and medium-sized enterprises. Data is also an indispensable raw material for developing Artificial Intelligence applications. From medical care to environment, optimal use of data can also help us address various societal challenges.

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The EU needs to go further in developing a competitive,secure, inclusive and ethical digital economy […]. Special emphasis should be placed on access to, sharing of and use of data […].

European Council conclusions, 22 March 2019

A data-powered European economy that drives innovation

Data is the lifeblood of the economy and a driver of innovation. The smart use of data can have a transformative effect on all sectors of the economy and can create new opportunities for economic growth, including for small and medium-sized enterprises. Data is also an indispensable raw material for developing Artificial Intelligence applications. From medical care to environment, optimal use of data can also help us address various societal challenges. For example, big data analysis can help our scientists develop better medical diagnostics tools and better models to predict climate change and natural disasters.

The economic impact of data is huge. Most economic activity will depend on data within a few years. The value of the European data economy for the 28 Member States is expected to grow from €377 billion in 2018 to €477 billion by 2020 and €1.054 billion by 2025 in a high-growth scenario based on the right conditions being in place.

Value of the Data Economy

The Data Economy measures the overall impacts of the data market on the economy as a whole.

Value of the Data Market

The marketplace where digital data is exchanged as “products” or “services” as a result of the elaboration of raw data.

Data Companies

Data suppliers have as their main activity the production and delivery of digital data-related products, services, and technologies.

Data Professionals

Workers who collect, store, manage, analyse, interpret, and visualise data as their primary or as a relevant part of their activity.

Towards a common European Data Space

In order to harness the huge economic and societal benefits of the ongoing data revolution, the European Union is creating a Common European Data Space – a seamless digital area with a scale that will enable the development of even more innovative products and EU-wide services based on data.

Combining government, industry and scientific data in the Common European Data Space:

Business data + Government data + Scientific data = Innovation and growth + Solutions to societal challenges

Legal context for the European Union policies supporting the growth of the European data economy

The development of the Common European Data Space is possible thanks to EU’s strong rules on the protection of personal data and on the free flow of data across borders. In this way citizens can have trust in how their data are used and businesses have freedom to choose where they store and process data.

Re-use of publicly funded data - Powering the economy and innovation

Public sector bodies in the European Union, such as government agencies, local authorities, or statistical offices, produce and collect huge quantities of data, a valuable raw material for the development of the economy. Examples of public sector data:

  • geospatial information;
  • statistics;
  • weather data;
  • digitised books from libraries

Allowing public sector data to be easily re-used for other purposes, including commercial ones, can:

  • stimulate economic growth and spur innovation: public data has significant potential for re-use in new products and services;
  • help address societal challenges with the development of innovative solutions such as in healthcare or in transport;
  • become a critical asset for the development of new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, which require the processing of vast amounts of high-quality data;
  • Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups use public sector data to create new products and services. For example, the Swedish app developer Seapilot produces digital maps for navigation based on marine chart data from hydrographic offices across the EU, while the Spanish startup Cropti provides more efficient farm management. With, farmers identify plot variability and problems (e.g. plagues or weather conditions) thanks to the use of European Space Agency and weather data.

What has the European Union done to support the wider re-use of public sector data?

The Open Data Directive stimulates cross-border reuse of public sector data for the benefit of the European economy and society. This new Directive addresses the remaining and emerging barriers to wide re-use of publicly funded information across the European Union and brings the legislative framework up to date with the advances in digital technologies. Once implemented by Member States, the Directive will increase the amount of public sector data available for re-use. Most public sector data will be free or available at a low cost, and many datasets will be available via application programming interfaces. This will allow more SMEs and startups providing data-based products and services to enter new markets.

The European Union also funds the European Data Portal – a pan-European multilingual discovery platform for public sector information open for re-use. This portal also offers a training centre on how to re-use open data and a database of success stories from European and international re-users.

Data sharing between businesses - More growth, more efficiencies and more innovative solutions

Ever-increasing amounts of data are generated in business processes. Such data can be re-used without a loss in data quality and, in many cases, without losing the competitive edge. The same data can underpin or improve different products or services. This applies in particular to making data available for training Artificial Intelligence applications. Access to and re-use of private sector data therefore constitute further major cornerstones of the EU’s policy to establish a Common European Data Space. Companies are engaging in data sharing, mostly in exchange for services or against monetary reward. Yet, data sharing remains below its true potential. The economic benefits of sharing of non-personal data in the manufacturing sector could amount to € 1.3trn in the EU by 2027 [source: Deloitte, Realising the economic potential of machine-generated, non-personal data in the EU, 2018]

What has the European Union done to encourage more data flows between businesses in the European Union?

The European Commission has put a focus on data resulting from objects connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), such as smart home appliances and factory robots connected to the Internet. In 2018, it published principles that should guide companies in their contractual practices relating to access and use of such data. It works with sectors to further develop such principles according to the specific situation.

The European Commission has also set up a Support Centre for Data Sharing. It is an online service that offers guidance for businesses interested in data sharing, including:

  • know-how and assistance on practical, technical and legal aspects of data sharing;
  • best practice examples;
  • checklists;
  • model contract clauses for data sharing arrangements.

A special case of private sector data for public good

Data held by companies can be very relevant to guide policy decisions or improve public services. Its use by public sector organisations can, for example, lead to a more targeted response to epidemics, better urban planning, such as improved road safety and traffic management, as well as better environmental protection, market monitoring and consumer protection.
The European Commission has published principles that should guide the supply of private sector data to public bodies under preferential conditions for re-use. It has also appointed a group of independent experts who will assess these principles and provide guidance for potential future initiatives in this area.

Investment into data innovation and deployment

Since 2014, the European Union has invested around €500 million into data innovation and has worked together with stakeholders through the Big Data Value Public-Private Partnership to build a vibrant and competitive data-driven EU economy.

Examples of EU-funded projects using data for innovation

Future funding activities

As part of the new proposed Digital Europe programme for the years 2021-2027, the European Commission has proposed to invest €2.5 billion into Artificial Intelligence. A substantial proportion of this amount will be used to fund the development of common European data spaces in different sectors, such as health, energy, agriculture etc. These spaces will aggregate data from across Europe, both from the public sector and from businesses, and make them available for the development of new products and services The funding from the Digital Europe programme will be supplemented with additional resources from the Horizon Europe programme for investments in new technologies underpinning the data economy.