The State cloud policy as a crucial signal for the EU's strategic ambitions

By Berend van der Hoeven MSc

Now that the dust has settled in the discussion surrounding the State Cloud Policy, it's time to place this development in a European perspective. This policy is an important and necessary signal for the EU's digital ambitions. The EU aims for what is known as "open strategic autonomy." If Europe wants to further increase its self-determination in the field of digital infrastructure in the coming years, progress and proactivity from its member states are required.

Cloud Policy, European Ambitions, Digital Infrastructure, Open Strategic Autonomy, Gaia-X

In the summer of 2022, the State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitalization announced that government agencies can make well-considered decisions about using public cloud services themselves. This announcement created quite a stir in the Netherlands. Critics raised concerns about security and privacy, while others saw advantages in the new policy, arguing that it's a prerequisite for further digitalization. However, what remains underemphasized in this discussion is the interaction between this policy and the EU's ambition regarding Open Strategic Autonomy. 

Strategic autonomy, in simple terms, is the European ambition to achieve independence from external influences to ensure European integrity on the global stage. In recent years, we've witnessed significant shifts in global power dynamics, with the position of the United States as the world's superpower evolving. The growing power of other countries, such as China, is changing the playing field. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 is a sign of increasing uncertainty and unpredictability in the current geopolitical landscape. To secure European integrity on this new chessboard, the EU aims for autonomy in critical infrastructure. The European digital initiatives and digital infrastructure are undoubtedly crucial factors in the European ambition. 

In this context, Europe has introduced various digital initiatives in recent years that hold great promise. Europe's share in semiconductor production has declined over the decades to only 10% of the global market share, while the demand for semiconductors is higher than ever. In the coming years, Europe intends to change this with the European Chips Act, which aims to increase the global market share of the European chip sector to 20% by 2030. This is an ambitious and necessary goal in a future where semiconductors are becoming increasingly important. 

As a legislative power, Europe is also making strides. Examples include the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which aim to increase competition, transparency, and openness in the tech sector and platform market. At the same time, the EU is working on the AI Act to establish a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence. 

However, there is still much work to be done for Europe to achieve a sovereign digital infrastructure. Currently, 65% of the public cloud market is in the hands of American companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, the hyperscalers. European organizations and businesses are increasingly embracing the benefits of cloud infrastructure. While the hyperscalers welcome this business with open arms, it poses a dilemma for Europe. Having so much critical infrastructure under American control could potentially create an uncomfortable situation for Europe in the future. The question arises: can we guarantee that the United States won't use this advantage to exert influence in the future? The counterargument is that Europe and America are allies. While this is true, history has shown that the status quo is not a guarantee for the future. 

From a European perspective, Gaia-X is meant to be the answer to this challenge. Launched in 2020, the project aims to create a data infrastructure based on European standards and values. Ideally, it should provide a safe haven for European data. Gaia-X aims to establish a European data infrastructure; it is not a cloud provider like the hyperscalers. Nevertheless, it can offer a solution to the uncertain situation Europe finds itself in. However, there is still much work to be done to achieve the scalability and efficiency of other players. Moreover, it requires governments, organizations, and businesses to have enough trust in the project to become customers and make it successful. 

This is why the recent State Cloud Policy is an important signal from a European perspective. A European alternative is only possible if European member states have the confidence to move their services to the cloud. The Dutch policy is both a signal and a requirement. Only by opening these markets to the cloud and being willing to invest in a new solution can the development of a European alternative take place. The willingness to invest would be a welcome next step. For example, consider Amazon's trajectory in the United States. Much of AWS's success is attributed to the trust placed in it by the U.S. government, which moved many of its services to the AWS cloud at an early stage. However, it's worth noting that a public initiative like Gaia-X may follow a different path than a commercial entity like AWS. 

In conclusion, substantial steps are still needed to align the European digital infrastructure with European ambitions. If Europe wants to further increase its self-determination in the field of digital infrastructure in the coming years, progress and proactivity from its member states are required. This will have consequences for Europe's relations with other countries and will also impact regional and local levels (i.e., the relationship between Europe and its member states). If you are curious about the implications of the strategic autonomy policy and how your organization can contribute to realizing these European ambitions, please feel free to contact us. 

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