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Building a European data economy is part of the Digital Single Market strategy. The initiative aims at fostering the best possible use of the potential of digital data to benefit the economy and society. It addresses the barriers that impede the free flow of data and other emerging challenges to achieve a European digital single market.

General need for action

Digital data is an essential resource for economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, job creation and societal progress in general.

The value of the EU data economy was more than €285 billion in 2015, representing over 1.94% of the EU GDP. If favourable policy and legislative conditions are put in place in time and investments in ICT are encouraged, the value of the European data economy may increase to €739 billion by 2020, representing 4% of the overall EU GDP.

The EU needs to ensure that data flows across borders and sectors and disciplines. This data should be accessible and reusable by most stakeholders in an optimal way. A coordinated European approach is essential for the development of the data economy, as part of the Digital Single Market strategy.

The European Commission adopted a Communication on "Building a European Data Economy", accompanied by a Staff Working Document on January 2017, where it:

  • looked at the rules and regulations impeding the free flow of data and present options to remove unjustified or disproportionate data location restrictions, and
  • outlined legal issues regarding access to and transfer of data, data portability and liability of non-personal, machine-generated digital data.

The Commission also launched a public consultation and dialogue with stakeholders on these topics to gather further evidence. This process helped to identify future policy or legislative measures that will unleash Europe's data economy. The conclusions from this process can be found in the synopsis report of the consultation.

The development of the European Data economy was one of the three emerging challenges identified in the mid-term review of the Digital Single Market strategy.

As a direct result, the Commission proposed a draft regulation of the EU free flow of non-personal data (13 September 2017).

Following up the mid-term review, the Commission will prepare an initiative on accessibility and re-use of public and publicly funded data (foreseen for spring 2018).

In addition, the Commission will continue its work on liability and other emerging data issues.

For more details, read the Communication.

Data should be able to flow freely across borders and within a single data space

Facing the challenge

Removing data localisation restrictions: the free flow of data

Free flow of data means the freedom to process and store data in electronic format anywhere within the EU. It is necessary for the development and use of innovative data technologies and services.

In order to achieve the free flow of data, the European Commission will collect more evidence on data location restrictions and assess their impact on businesses, especially SMEs and startups, and public sector organisations. The Commission has also discussed the existing data localisation restrictions with Member States and other stakeholders.

The regulation on the free flow of non-personal data will help to unleash the full power of the EU data economy, boost the competitiveness of European businesses and further modernise public services. At the heart of the new regulation is the introduction into EU law of the principle of free flow of non-personal data across borders. It seeks to establish the same free movement for non-personal data as the General Data Protection Regulation does for personal data.

Trust is a key precondition for this to work in practice, and for the development of the data economy as a whole. The proposed regulation seeks to provide reassurance to regulators and businesses. It makes clear that the responsibility of private parties to provide data for existing regulatory control purposes remains unchanged, regardless of where data is stored or processed. Also it will make it easier for cloud users to switch cloud service providers. This will be done by self-regulatory codes of conduct, developed by the cloud services industry.

Stepping up open data in the EU: promoting the reuse of public and publicly funded data

The European Commission is further developing its policies on the accessibility and reuse of public and publicly funded data. To that end, it has launched a public consultation, in the context of the review of the Directive on the reuse of Public Sector Information (2003/98/EC). The objectives of the consultation are:  

  • To assess whether the Directive in its current shape meets the needs of citizens and businesses. It seeks views on how to make the legal framework simpler and less costly for re-users and public administrations.
  • To improve the Directive, also fulfilling its periodic review obligation. It plans to identify those areas that can benefit from EU intervention of legislative or non-legislative nature, such as data held by private economic operators but publicly funded (e.g. under a concession contract).
  • To reflect on the possibility to allow public sector bodies to access and use data of public interest coming from private sector entities, such as telecommunication operators or social media companies.  

The results of the consultation will allow the European Commission to assess whether and how the Directive (2003/98/EC) needs to be adapted to the developments in the wider data economy. This can strengthen the European data economy, thus giving rise to new business models and jobs.

Exploring the emerging issues relating to the data economy

The European Commission has defined the following issues and started a dialogue with stakeholders:

  • Non-personal machine-generated data need to be tradable to allow innovative business models to flourish, new market entrants to propose new ideas and start-ups to have a fair chance to compete.
  • Data-driven technologies are transforming our economy and society, resulting in the production of ever-increasing amounts of data. This phenomenon leads to innovative ways of collecting, acquiring, processing and using data which can pose a challenge to the current legal framework.
  • Access to and transfer of non-personal data, data liability, as well as portability of non-personal data, interoperability and standards are complex legal issues.

Useful links

Proposal for a Regulation on the Free Flow of non-personal Data

Stakeholder dialogue


  • Press release and MEMO – Q&A on the proposed regulation on the free flow of non-personal data
  • Digibyte on the launch of the public consultation on the review of the Directive on the re-use of public sector information
  • Press release and MEMO - Q&A on Building the European Data Economy

Directive on the reuse of Public Sector Information

Communication and staff working documents

Visual material

  • Factsheet on Free Flow of non-personal Data
  • Factsheet on Building a European Data Economy



10 January 2017
Last update: 
19 September 2017
Team responsible