Policy Brief: European Commission’s Strategy for AI, explained


European Union

The European Commission published a Communication on “Artificial Intelligence for Europe” on April 24th 2018. It highlights the transformative nature of AI technology for the world and it calls for the EU to lead the way in the approach of developing AI on a fundamental rights framework. AI for good and for all is the motto the Commission proposes. The Communication could be summed up as announcing concrete funding for research projects, clear social goals and more thinking about everything else.

The Communication lays out proposed actions for the following years, fully taking into account that cooperation with Member States and at EU level is crucial. There are already some Member States that developed AI strategies. France presented its national strategy for AI on March 29 – and president Emmanuel Macron has been quite vocal about it. Germany also set up a platform on learning systems to enable a strategic dialogue between academia, industry and the government, and it has put forward a report on the ethics of automated and connected driving. Finland has put forward a strategy as well. The Commission doesn’t want to see a fragmented Single Market when it comes to AI and it transpires from the Communication that this was one of the main reasons to take action at this stage.

The Strategy proposed by the Commission contains several streams of action, of which the major ones are:

  • Concrete financial support for the development of AI applications;
  • Initiatives to make data available to researchers;
  • Analyzing the impact of AI on workforce and setting up a framework to support Member States to prepare workforce to cope with the age of AI;
  • Establishing an appropriate ethical and legal framework (even though no major initiatives were announced, besides adopting this year AI ethical guidelines);
  • Establishing an infrastructure for collaboration with Member States and research institutions.

Each of them will be briefly detailed below.

1) Financial support, including for the creation of an “AI Toolbox”

The Commission pledged 1.5 billion euros (1.75 billion dollars) in the next two years (2018-2020) for research and innovation in AI technologies under the Horizon 2020 program, primarily to support applications which address societal challenges in sectors such as health, transport and agrifood. Through public-private partnerships, this amount is estimated to increase with 2.5 billion euros over the same period of time. The Commission will also support the strengthening of AI research excellence centers. One ambitious target is to stimulate the uptake of AI across Europe through a toolbox for potential users, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, non-tech companies and public administrations.

The toolbox will include:

  • an AI-on-demand platform giving support and easy access to the latest algorithms and expertise;
  • a network of AI-focused Digital Innovation Hubs facilitating testing and experimentation; and
  • the set-up of industrial data platforms offering high quality datasets.

In addition, the Commission aims to stimulate more private investments in AI under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (at least 500 million euros in 2018-2020).

2) Initiatives to make data available for researchers: a new support centre for data sharing

Acknowledging that data is essential for the development of AI, the Commission wants to act towards growing the European data space. It is important however to mention that the focus of the data sharing initiatives is primarily on non-personal data and public sector information (traffic, meteorological, economic and financial data or business registers). As for personal data and privately-held data, the Commission emphasizes that any sharing initiative must ensure full respect for legislation on the protection of personal data.

To support making data available in a responsible way, the Commission published together with the Communication as series of new initiatives and guidance:

3) Dealing with the impact of AI on EU workforce

Preparing the society as a whole for the impact of AI is the first main challenge identified by the Communication in this area. The aim is to develop programs that will help all Europeans to develop basic digital skills, as well as skills which are complementary to and cannot be replaced by any machine, such as critical thinking, creativity or management.

The second challenge is the impact of AI on jobs and workers. The Commission announced that the EU will focus efforts to help workers in jobs which are likely to be the most transformed or disappear due to automation, robotics and AI. This means also ensuring access for all citizens, including workers, to social protection. The Commission intends to set-up dedicated re-training schemes in connection with the Blueprint on sectoral cooperation on skills for professional profiles which are at risk of being automated, with financial support from the European Social Fund.

The third challenge is training more specialists in AI, including attracting talent from abroad. The Commission estimates that there are about 350.000 vacancies for such professionals in Europe, pointing to significant skills gap. To this end, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology will integrate AI across curricula in the education courses it supports.

4) Ensuring both legal and ethical frameworks for the development of AI

The Communication does not announce any new legislative proposal, but it emphasizes how the current proposals debated in Brussels are relevant for AI (the Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data, the ePrivacy Regulation and the Cybersecurity Act) and that they need to be adopted as soon as possible so that citizens and businesses alike will be able to trust the technology they interact with. The possibility that the Product Liability Directive will be revised is announced, but the only concrete step mentioned for the time being is an analysis of the current provisions and whether they are fit to deal with AI technology.

In addition, the Commission highlights the role the GDPR plays on regulating the use of personal data for AI related purposes, including with regard to the right of individuals to receive meaningful information about the logic involved in automated decision-making and their right not to be subject to solely automated decision-making except in limited circumstances. The Commission intends to support national and EU-level consumer organisations and data protection supervisory authorities in building an understanding of AI-powered applications with the input of the European Consumer Consultative Group and of the European Data Protection Board.

As for dealing with ethics, the Communication announces that “AI Ethics Guidelines” will be adopted by the end of the year, in collaboration with “all relevant stakeholders”. The Guidelines are expected to address issues such as the future of work, fairness, safety, security, social inclusion and algorithmic transparency. To this end, the Commission set up a High Level Working Group for AI and the European AI Alliance.

5) Establishing partnerships with Member States

Finally, the Commission focuses on establishing partnerships at EU level. By the end of the year the Commission will work on a coordinated plan with Member States to maximise the impact of investments at EU and national levels, exchange information on the best way for governments to prepare Europeans for the AI transformation and address legal and ethical considerations. At the same time, the Commission plans to systematically monitor AI-related developments at Member State level.

It is relevant to note here that a week before the Commission published its strategy on AI, 25 EU Member States signed a Declaration of Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence, and they were joined one month later by the rest of the Member States. Currently, all 29 EU Member States are signatories to the Declaration.


For more information on the Future of Privacy Forum’s work on AI, or if you have questions related to this Policy Brief, contact:

Brenda Leong, Senior Counsel and Director of Strategy at [email protected]

Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, PhD, Policy Counsel at [email protected]