The European Commission plays an invaluable role in the evolution and adoption of technology; Considering that Europe’s tech research and development efforts form an integral part of its economy, it is no wonder that it has taken the lead in efforts to advance blockchain and DLT. Blockchain Live speaker and the European Commission’s Policy Officer for Startups and Innovation, Benoit Abeloos spoke to the OnTheBlock team about some of the activities the Commission have been heading up. As head of the interoperability and Standards Workstream within the Commission’s Fintech task force, Benoit personally witnessed the growth of blockchain’s application from finance to a range of sectors, many of which the EU has taken special interest as policy makers. In the round, the EU had a watchful approach to the technology, with Benoit stating that “Governments need to be careful in the way they spend tax payers’ money. We need to be able to make the distinction between a hype and a true opportunity to improve the lives of our citizens and businesses. That’s why we need to launch more proof of concepts and pilots in different domains and according to different use cases”.
Engaging with a wide spectrum of organisations and industries both at home and abroad, the EU is eager to understand how for example, the technology will impact financial systems and indeed how it may solve the security and interoperability issues which have plagued Europe’s disparate health estates. Within blockchain also lies the opportunity to bolster the EU’s objectives within the field of eGovernment. The D-CENT (Decentralised Citizens ENgagement Technologies) project established as early as October 2013 and designed to actively foster open source and distributed platforms to encourage direct democracy and economic empowerment, symbolises the Commission’s dynamism for distributed computing.
D-CENT is just one of a whole string of blockchain related pilots and projects currently being headed up by the Commission. According to Benoit, data protection projects such as DECODE, health data management schemes such as MyHealthMyData, copyright management projects like Bloomen as well as efforts by DG FISMA to build a European Financial Transparency Gateway, are all currently exploring blockchain. The Commission’s interest is not exclusive to its application to health, finance and data management; IoT, Copy Right, Customs and Taxation, eID Management and importantly Cyber Security all represent fields worthy of investing research and innovation in blockchain.
Beyond these pilots, there is important work that the Commission is doing to create a better understanding of blockchain for policy makers, industry and indeed citizens. The soon to be launched EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum has been conceptualised to ensure that the EU has its finger well and truly on the pulse of blockchain development. By the same token, it will inform EU approach to governance where it is deemed beneficial and/or necessary. In addition to considerations on governance, blockchain, like any emerging and far-reaching technology, necessitates expert discussion on the issue of standards. Benoit maintained that though this blockchain exploration activity was to be encouraged, ‘all these emerging systems will need to interoperate in the future, and be based on international standards’.
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