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The European Union finds itself at a crossroads, grappling with the complexities of data sovereignty and privacy in the age of cloud computing. With billions of euros pouring into the cloud industry across Europe, and US tech giants erecting monumental data centers across the continent, the concept of a European sovereign cloud has emerged as a rallying cry for autonomy and control over data.

Amid mounting concerns about data privacy, European companies are turning to sovereign clouds, tailored to adhere to region-specific regulations. These clouds ensure data storage and processing within defined geographical boundaries, aligning with stringent privacy laws.

According to a 2023 Accenture report, 37% of European firms have already invested in sovereign clouds, with 44% planning to follow suit by 2025. This trend underscores a proactive approach to safeguarding user data and complying with regulatory requirements. As data privacy continues to take center stage, sovereign cloud adoption across industries is poised to play a pivotal role in fortifying digital security in Europe.


Defining Sovereignty in the Cloud

At its core, the concept of a sovereign cloud revolves around the idea of local control and governance over data storage, access, and oversight. Instead of relying on external companies to manage data in vast warehouses, the sovereign cloud advocates for local entities—whether it be countries, regions, or communities—to retain jurisdiction over their data, shielding it from foreign interference and ensuring compliance with local laws and regulations.

Francisco Mingorance, Secretary General of the European cloud industry body, CISPE, has emphasized that the sovereign cloud aims to empower customers with the choice of data privacy, offering immunity from foreign jurisdictions accessing European citizens' or companies' data.

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The Need for Sovereignty

The dominance of US tech giants like Amazon (AWS), Google, and Microsoft in the cloud industry poses significant challenges for European data sovereignty. US law mandates these companies to comply with data requests from US security agencies, raising concerns about the privacy and security of European data.

To address these concerns, the push for a sovereign cloud has gained traction, with proponents advocating for the localization of data storage and management within Europe's borders to safeguard sensitive personal information.

A 2022 report by Thales revealed that 60% of corporate data was stored in the cloud, with the majority of businesses implementing a multi-cloud approach.

“Ensuring data sovereignty is a key responsibility for companies that keep data in different countries, each with their own laws and regulations concerning privacy, censorship, and the cross-border data flow,” according to Celestine Bahr, Director of Legal, Compliance & Data Privacy at Usercentrics. “Businesses must be aware of global data privacy laws and data sovereignty requirements to maintain compliance and protect their customers’ sensitive information.”

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Key Players and Initiatives

France has emerged as a staunch supporter of the sovereign cloud initiative, championing a wider vision of digital sovereignty to counterbalance the dominance of US tech giants. Projects like Gaia-X, a collaboration between companies, officials, and academics, aim to build a European data and technology infrastructure that fosters European alternatives to big tech.

Amazon has taken strides to position itself as a key architect of the European sovereign cloud, announcing investments and initiatives to establish an independent cloud for Europe. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced a substantial investment of EUR 7.8 billion to develop the AWS European Sovereign Cloud in Germany by 2040.

Microsoft has also made strides with its Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty. This initiative focuses on providing a compliant cloud environment that meets the unique requirements of governments and public sector organizations.

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However, Microsoft and Google, while investing in European data centers, have not embraced the sovereignty branding as aggressively.

Moreover, in 2021, Google Cloud partnered with T-Systems to launch the Sovereign Cloud for Germany, providing German customers with cloud services that meet local compliance and data sovereignty needs.

Additionally, French companies Orange and Capgemini have partnered to create Bleu, a sovereign cloud service aimed at meeting the data residency and sovereignty needs of French public and private sector entities.

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Challenges and Controversies

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the sovereign cloud, challenges remain. Data privacy campaigner, Max Schrems, argues that the location of servers alone does not guarantee data sovereignty, as US companies would still maintain control over the data and be obliged to comply with US orders.

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Additionally, efforts by US firms to establish European entities and partnerships to circumvent data privacy issues are often met with skepticism. There are concerns that these efforts lack concrete solutions to ensure true data sovereignty.

As European governments grapple with the complexities of data sovereignty and privacy, initiatives like Gaia-X and national standards like France's "trusted cloud" signal a concerted effort to assert control over data within Europe's borders.

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