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How the EU is using blockchain to build a citizen-centric European Internet

Since its early days blockchain has been heralded as the technology of decentralisation. Many have hoped to use it to counter some of the more worrisome evils – like lack of privacy, fake news, or the concentration of data-wealth in the hands of a few – associated with today’s increasingly centralised and platform-dominated Internet. Yet we still seem to be waiting for a comprehensive view of how this might actually be done.
In Europe, that may be changing. While under the radar to some extent, European policy makers have been busy developing a vision of how blockchain could be applied to the European Digital Single Market. Those who favor a more citizen-centric, privacy-preserving approach to the Internet should find a fair amount to like in it.

The EU cares more about decentralisation than you may think

Reading through the interviews in particular, you will find strong support from the EC for decentralisation as an idea. To be clear, this is not Satoshi Nakamoto’s all-or-nothing conception of decentralisation. It’s more about creating the conditions for a healthy continuum between centralised and decentralised approaches, depending on what makes sense in a given context.

It is true that compared, for example, with smaller jurisdictions like my home country of Switzerland, the EU has not been the fastest mover on blockchain policy. But momentum has been building. For instance, the EC just finished a consultation on digital assets and has said it clearly favors – if politically feasible – a harmonised European legal and regulatory framework for digital assets and smart contracts. This is now a distinct possibility.
Over the summer, we can expect a new comprehensive European blockchain policy, likely with significantly increased funding for blockchain projects under the new EU budget.

Behind the ponderous sounding title of the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure initiative is a pretty neat idea: European governments, along with the EC and the European Court of Auditors , are building their own Europe-wide blockchain for cross-border government services.Like any large project it will take time to come to fruition. By design the initiative is also starting small, with four fairly limited use cases. But small seeds can grow into large plants.

New use cases are being added this year, and the idea is to expand it over time into a comprehensive platform.

The EC’s vision for digital identity foresees a compromise between centralised and decentralised approaches – but it looks like a pretty progressive compromise

It’s no secret that decentralised identity will be a key element of any large-scale decentralised platform. However, the EC’s vision for decentralised identity is not to replace all centrally issued IDs with decentralised or self-sovereign counterparts.The idea is to make it easier for individuals to manage a fair amount of their identity credentials themselves and so have more control over how that information is used.

Last but not least, recognising that historically there has been a funding gap for startups in Europe, the EU has been ramping up funding for blockchain and related technologies . This has been happening through the Horizon 2020 initiative and the newer Artificial Intelligence and AI Blockchain Investment Fund.
In the latter, the EU is making €100 million available in 2020 to support companies working in these sectors. We can expect even more to come in the next budget. For startups, it makes sense to keep tabs on what is available or coming online and make use of these resources, if at all possible.

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