As a host of new digital technologies have emerged over the last decade, data has become a key driver of economic growth, social progress, and innovation. But what is the true state of data innovation in the EU, and how do European national economies compare in their use of and support for data?
A report by the Center for Data Innovation ranks the EU’s 28 member states by how well they perform in data innovation, using a variety of indicators including metrics on open data policies, digital skills, and the use of data-driven technologies in industry.
On October 10, 2017, the Center for Data Innovation hosted a discussion with leading experts and policymakers about the factors behind the leading countries’ success, and how all European countries can build a thriving data economy.
The event began with Nick Wallace, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Data Innovation, summarizing the report’s basic findings. Overall, the top five ranking countries are Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. While the top five nations generally have higher incomes, the report states that “income is not a guarantee of strong performance in data innovation.” Estonia—a country where GDP per capita is below the EU average—comes in sixth, illustrating the difference effective policies and leadership can make.
Christine Muller-Andreassen, counsellor at the Permanent Representation of Denmark to the EU, elaborated on Denmark’s success. According to her, Denmark’s relatively small size makes it easier to effectively use data. However, she pointed out that despite the country’s high data innovation ranking, seven out of 10 Danish companies still experience barriers that prevent them from using data in their work. Because of this, she believes that public institutions should make data more publicly available and improve the quality of the data. In addition, Muller-Andreasson detailed Denmark’s other positive data practices, including how the country encourages cooperation between the public and private sector. It also appointed its first tech ambassador, who is based in Silicon Valley. Lastly, she discussed Denmark’s digital growth strategy, which would be unveiled later in the fall.
Following Muller-Andreasson, William Echikson, associate senior research fellow and head of digital forum at CEPS, shared his views on the EU’s data landscape. According to him, the overall regulatory scene is somewhat depressing, particularly since the EU hasn’t fully leveraged a digital single market. He specifically gave the example of how a telecom company might need to report to 28 different telecom regulators, rather than one central European one. In addition, Echikson discussed the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which he feels will not boost Europe’s global competitiveness and may inhibit it from unleashing data. Muller-Andreasson and Ana Garcia-Robles, secretary general at the Big Data Value Association, disagreed with his assessment on the GDPR.
Garcia-Robles expressed optimism over where the data economy will take Europe, particularly since the evolution is certain to take place. She is particularly interested in artificial intelligence (AI), which she believes needs to be discussed at a national and European level. In addition, she emphasized the importance of governments building trust and transparency. Wallace pointed out that innovative countries are often the least corrupt.
Overall, the panelists discussed the intricacies and benefits of sharing and using data effectively, offering recommendations and solutions. One point from the report remains clear: European countries that embrace data innovation will find it easier to respond to social and economic challenges in the future—ultimately benefiting the lives of their citizens.