We must exploit open data before US takes the lead, says EU official

Francesco Barbato Photograph: EC

European businesses risk being forced to play catch up in a multi-trillion euro race if they do not take advantage of open data before their US counterparts, according to Francesco Barbato, a scientific project officer at the European Commission.

Barbato said a thriving data economy, driven by startups and established businesses, would stem the tide of top European scientists leaving for the US’s biggest tech firms and allow Europe to lead the world in a new sector.

The application of open data in seven sectors alone could be worth €2.7tn a year to the global economy, according to a McKinsey report. In November last year the EU committed to invest €14.4m in open data, including €7.7m in a startup incubator for open data (ODINE).

Barbato said: “In Europe we have this opportunity that we must not leave to the usual big American companies.”

He added that open data provided an opportunity for European businesses, with the support of governments, to grow a thriving new data-driven economy: “We need to develop companies here in Europe that are able to exploit the opportunities that we have.”

This would, Barbato said, help discourage European scientists from crossing the Atlantic to join large American companies: “It would be very important for the European economy as a whole if we could try to invert this tendency and keep more talent here.”

Open data has been lauded as a vehicle for increasing transparency and accountability but Barbato goes further: “We believe that by building upon the power of open data we can help build a data-based economy.”

He added: “Of course exploiting open data is only a part of it but supporting entrepreneurship, exploiting the power of open data will help us reach the highest level objectives that we have as Commission, which are more skilled jobs for Europe and more growth for Europe.”


This article first appeared on The Guardian.