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EU Commission should stay away from cloud computing

The proposed multibillion-euro science cloud could become an expensive drain, like the Galileo satellite navigation project, fears Swedish MEP Christofer Fjellner

MEP Christofer Fjellner
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Last week, the European Commission announced that it plans to create a European Cloud. Yes, that’s right: the Commission is now in the business of cloud computing.

Cloud computing is a useful, interesting and innovative technology. I use cloud services myself, on a daily basis. But this is not the type of issue into which the Commission should be poking its nose and risking taxpayers’ money.

Initially the EU cloud will serve science. European researchers and their international collaborators will be able to share scientific data and results.

But the plan does not end there. By 2020, the Commission plans to develop a European data storage and network infrastructure. The project’s estimated cost is €6.7 billion. At least €2 billion will be taken straight from the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation budget.

The Commission argues that its brand new initiative will promote the data-driven economy and make the EU a world leader in the area. If we take a look at the Commission’s track record in this area, however, it is quite poor.

Recently, the European Parliament passed a new data protection regulation that will restrain innovation rather than promote it. In short, the regulation has a perspective on data flows that is outdated even before it comes into effect.

An even more discouraging example is Galileo, the Commission’s project to create a satellite navigation system that could compete with America’s GPS and Russia’s Glonass.

If you have never heard about Galileo, it is because it has not been successful. It is predicted the system will not become operational until after 2020. And the initial cost estimate of a few billion euros has increased to over €20 billion.

Cloud computing is best left to private entrepreneurs and providers. And if there is a need for inter-institutional sharing of information via a cloud, for example between two European universities, there are many excellent options available: Google Drive, DropBox and OneDrive are only a few examples.

The Commission should instead focus on measures that create a favourable business climate for entrepreneurs and innovators. But so far, that has not quite been the case.

Let us just hope that the European Open Science Cloud does not turn into yet another Galileo project.

Christofer Fjellner is a member of Sweden’s Moderate Party and sits with the centre-right European People's Party in the European Parliament

(Editor’s note: the European Space Agency, which is the operational lead for Galileo, says initial services will be available by the end of 2016. As more satellites are launched, new services will be tested and made available, with system completion scheduled for 2020. Galileo is not intended to compete with the US GPS or Russian Glonass system but to ensure Europe has an independent satellite navigation system).
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Related subjects: Science policy, Horizon 2020