The European Union (EU) held a Blockchain Roundtable in Brussels, Belgium on November 20th, 2018 with aspirations of encouraging Europe to take the lead in blockchain technologies.

The EU is the tightest knit and largest union of countries in the world, encompassing 508 million citizens. The big question coming out of this roundtable is whether Europe could leverage their relative closeness to lead the blockchain movement globally, ahead of the US and Canada.

The EU Blockchain Roundtable: “Bringing industries together for Europe to lead in blockchain technologies”

The objective of the EU Blockchain Roundtable was to garner support with industry leaders and policy makers to develop a combined EU strategy to drive innovation and maximize the advantage of blockchain technology. It forms part of the EU’s “Digital Single Market” strategy area.

“This is a major opportunity to increase trust and to improve services in a wide range of industries and sectors,” says the roundtable news update, which added “Europe is well placed to seize this opportunity.”

The EU believes it has a “robust framework” to protect privacy and build trust in digital services as well as a tradition of “public private partnerships to advance innovation.” It proposes that governments and “economic actors” must work together to “overcome regulatory obstacles, increase legal predictability, lead international standardization efforts and accelerate research and innovation to support scalability,” of blockchain.

The roundtable builds on the European Commission’s European Blockchain Partnership which aims to build a high standard and EU law compliant blockchain services infrastructure.

At the Brussels-based event, EU Roundtable leaders invited five attending banks to join the initiative including Spanish banks BBVA and Santander. The collaboration will launch the International Association for Trusted Blockchain Applications (IATBA) early in 2019, a dedicated European platform to promote the use of blockchain technology.

Does the EU give Europe an advantage?

In some ways collaboration between countries within the EU, operating within its policy framework could encourage development in the region. Equally the additional high-level legislation and bureaucracy could slow innovators compared to economic areas like Canada with a single framework.

Despite the Canadian government investigating blockchain for its own use, there is little emerging in the way of government driven or funded blockchain initiatives. Blockchain collaboration is mostly between private sector firms with some provincial and national representation. The Toronto-based Blockchain Research Institute, for example, has members including Deloitte, Microsoft, CIBC, and the Bank of Canada, as well as representatives from the government of Canada and Ontario.

The story is similar in the U.S where some states are getting actively involved in blockchain initiatives but the federal government is more wary, still investigating how blockchain could be defined in its economic area.

In China, the government is supporting blockchain with government working groups and has included blockchain in its five year plan for developing information technology. Financing of blockchain projects in China has reached the equivalent of $133 million CAD.

In comparison, the EU has committed the equivalent of over $500 million CAD to blockchain projects to 2020 through its EU Blockchain Fund and has partnered directly with blockchain company and incubator ConsenSys to encourage adoption and develop strategy.

Though appearing to commit the most in public funding and development, entire EU spending on blockchain, estimated to reach nearly $4 billion in CAD by 2022, is outpaced by the US at over $5 billion CAD. Figures for Canada in this IDC report are recorded in “other” and smaller than either the EU or the U.S.

That said, a report by Deloitte shows that 18% of Canadian organizations included in the survey were planning to invest $10 million USD or more (approximately $13 million CAD) in blockchain development in the next year. This is the same as in China and slightly less than French organizations at 20%. In the U.S  only 13% of organizations are planning to invest $10 million USD or more.

The EU’s country collaborative approach could increase blockchain innovation in Europe and the funding will certainly assist this process. However, it is yet to be seen whether blockchain growth would outstrip Canada or the U.S which seem to be progressing blockchain use just as quickly, mainly driven by private innovation.

 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

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