On February 1, 2018, the European Commission (EC) revealed a "Blockchain Observatory and Forum" initiative, geared toward playing "an active role in helping Europe to seize new opportunities."
European Union officials will work together with the multifaceted Ethereum-based company, ConsenSys, to provide in-depth analysis, as well as expert collaboration, in the pursuit of applicable use cases for blockchain technology.
In Brussels, EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel spoke to press about Europe's ability to be on the cutting edge of advancements in tech: "I see blockchain as a game-changer and I want Europe to be at the forefront of its development," she said. "We need to establish the right enabling environment – a Digital Single Market for blockchain, so that all citizens can benefit, instead of a patchwork of initiatives. The EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum is an important step in that direction."
The EC has been involved with blockchain-enabled systems for years, explained Gabriel. "We have been funding blockchain projects since 2013. The total support will soon reach 100 million euros."
One such project, My Health My Data, uses blockchain technology to enable a peer-to-peer infrastructure complete with a tamper-evident system that empowers consumers to safely store and control their medical data. The system uses executable distributed contract codes to assist in data management and access rights.
As part of a wider push to promote synergy among research projects spanning across countries, the initiative comes at a time when, according to Gabriel, there is a dearth of blockchain developers.
Another EC initiative is the Digital Single Market, which represents an effort to unify 28 national markets. The vice president for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, acknowledged, "Technologies like blockchain can help reduce costs while increasing trust, traceability and security."
Ansip also mentioned the potential of the technology to provide enhanced security online by eliminating middlemen. He said, "We want to build on Europe's substantial talent base and excellent startups to become a leading world region that will develop and invest in the rollout of blockchain."
The EU's financial services commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, also touched on the change blockchain technology will bring to the financial services marketplace:
"Among the many technologies that are driving digital innovation, blockchain has the potential to be truly transformative for financial services and markets. The Blockchain Observatory and Forum will monitor developments and also inform our policy making."
Gabriel's sentiment regarding promoting blockchain development isn't unanimous; European Parliament lawmaker Jakob Von Weizacker expressed criticism about the capacity for a single system to prevail above others. He told press, "Once you're locked into one particular platform, that can imply enormous monopoly rents."
Similarly, Dombrovskis gave warning on cryptocurrencies, writing in an email that they must "not become tokens of unlawful behaviour or the object of empty speculative bubbles." Dombrovskis' comments are consistent with his previously reported stance on consumer protection related to cryptocurrencies, ahead of an expected update on the European Supervisory Authorities' plan for regulatory guidance.
As it helps to promote the consolidation of expertise and research efforts in the blockchain ecosystem, the Blockchain Observatory and Forum stands to educate and guide government leaders and policymakers seeking to make the most out of integrating these systems.