CLIP of the month: EU Commission unveils plans for ‘digital transformation’ and AI


On 19 February, the European Commission unveiled its agenda for a “digital transformation that works for all”, publishing a Communication on data strategy and a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence.

In presenting the Commission’s plans, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, stated: “We want every citizen, every employee, every business to stand a fair chance to reap the benefits of digitalisation. Whether that means driving more safely or polluting less thanks to connected cars; or even saving lives with AI-driven medical imagery that allows doctors to detect diseases earlier than ever before.”

The objective of the Commission’s European data strategy is to enable the EU to become “a role model and a leader for a society empowered by data”.  To achieve this, the Commission hopes to establish a ‘European data space’: a single market for data which allows it to flow freely within the EU and across sectors for the benefit of businesses, researchers and public administrations.  As the Commission sees it, that data “should be available to all, whether public or private, start-up or giant”.

The Commission’s White Paper on artificial intelligence sets out a framework for the development of trustworthy and ‘human-centric’ AI.  The Commission aims to create “the right incentives to accelerate deployment of AI, including by smaller and medium-sized enterprises”; and – ambitiously – to attract over €20 billion of private and public investment in AI per year over the next decade.  Recognising that AI systems can carry significant risks in certain contexts, the Commission considers that “clear rules [are needed] to address high-risk AI systems without putting too much burden on less risky ones”.

It remains to be seen what role competition law and policy will play in the Commission’s bold plans for digital transformation.  The data strategy Communication provides just a few clues, indicating that:

  • The Commission will provide more guidance on the compliance of data-sharing and pooling arrangements with EU competition rules by means of an update to the Horizontal Cooperation Guidelines;
  • In merger control, the Commission will carefully consider the effects on competition of large-scale data accumulation through acquisitions and the utility of data-access or data-sharing remedies to resolve any concerns;
  • In its review of State Aid guidelines, the Commission will examine the relationship between public support to undertakings (e.g. for digital transformation) and the minimisation of competition distortions through data-sharing requirements for aid beneficiaries.

Whilst the data strategy Communication doesn’t say so expressly, it also seems likely that the Commission will factor in what it has learned from antitrust investigations into the likes of Amazon and Facebook when it comes to update its competition law guidelines.  As we commented on here, the Commission is currently examining whether Amazon has used data to quash smaller rivals.  A similar probe into Facebook was opened in December last year.