Official Newsletter of the European Union Blockchain Observatory & Forum - February 8, 2019
We are pleased to present you with this special anniversary edition newsletter summarising the activities of the European Union Blockchain Observatory & Forum to date.
The Observatory after one year: What we’ve learned, where we’re headed
On February 1, 2019 the EU Blockchain Observatory & Forum turned one year old.
When we launched, it was with the assumption that blockchain technology is not only an important tool for building a fair, inclusive, secure and democratic digital economy, but is also destined to become an important industry in its own right.
While the last 12 months have seen many ups and downs for blockchain, all in all our thesis seemed to hold. The blockchain industry in Europe continues to evolve and grow. As we examined in detail in our workshop on Scalability, we can expect 2019 to be a year in which much of this activity begins to bear fruit in the real world.
We thought our one year anniversary a good time to review what we have done and learned to date, and to provide a look at what we have planned going forward. We have provided plenty of links to our content and invite you, if you haven’t already, to explore what we have to offer.
Getting started: Building the Observatory platform
While the Observatory was officially launched on 1 February, 2018, work began in earnest at the project kickoff meeting on 20 February in Brussels with members from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) and ConsenSys, the global blockchain technology company.
Our first order of business was to set up the Observatory’s platform. That meant designing and launching our website, setting up the European Blockchain Initiative Map, opening the Observatory’s Twitter account, and launching the online forum on eublockchain.mobilize.io. With today some 1,000 website visitors per week, 5,100 Twitter followers, 1,400 active users on our chat forum, and 550 initiatives added to the blockchain map, we were very pleased with how our community grew over the year.
Having launched the platform, our next order of business was to kick start our analysis and reporting activities. To do this we began coordinating with our academic partners: the University of Southampton, the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University, University College London, and the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences. On 15 March we also put out a pan-European call for contributors to join our Working Groups. Having received over 350 applications, by mid May we were able to announce our final list of 60 prominent European blockchain thought leaders.
Split into two groups of 30 members each – one focused on Blockchain Policy and Framework Conditions and the other on Use Cases and Transition Scenarios – our thought leaders are responsible for identifying and researching existing initiatives and identifying issues and potential needs for EU action. Adding in the input we were beginning to receive from the broader community through our online forum, by June we had assembled what we felt was a unique, broad and deep source of expertise, experience and opinion on blockchain in Europe.
Themes and reports: What we learned during the year
The next order of business was to make use of this expertise to carry out our analysis and reporting.
The process we set up is as follows: In conjunction with the European Commission and the Working Groups, we identify a set of themes to be looked at in detail. For most themes, one of our academic partners then writes an expert-oriented research paper. These papers, published in the Knowledge section of our website, serve as a basis for further discussion.
Each theme is then explored in more detail in a related workshop, where we invite thought leaders, working group participants and the general public to participate. The results of these workshops are published in a short blog post, available in the Announcements section of the site, and a detailed workshop report, which is posted later on our Reports page. We also post the videos of the workshop on our YouTube channel.
Based on these insights, and in close consultation with the Working Groups, we produce a thematic report. As opposed to the research papers, the thematic reports are written for a general audience – meant to be both a comprehensive statement and set of recommendations on the theme, and easily digestible by a non-technical reader. These thematic reports are also posted on our Reports page.
Between July and today we have been able to hold six workshops and publish four research papers and three thematic reports. Below is a short summary of what we learned, with links for more detail.
- Blockchain Innovation in Europe. Before we could began our blockchain journey in earnest, we had to know where we stood. So for our first theme we set ourselves the task of taking stock of the state of blockchain innovation in Europe. As we explored in our first workshop in Vienna in May, and our first thematic report in July, Europe could boast of many strengths, including a vibrant ecosystem, supportive government and lots of technical knowhow (as one entrepreneur said at the workshop, Europe “was the place to be” for blockchain). But from regulatory uncertainty to a talent shortage, there were weak spots as well. For more see our publications:
- GDPR. One of the hottest topics in blockchain last year was the apparently irreconcilable differences between the decentralised approach of blockchain technology and Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). How to square the circle was the subject of our second theme. While the challenges are real – and there are a few highly complex technological hurdles – we actually found many paths to reconciliation. At the end of the day, GDPR compliance is not about the technology, but how it is used. Here is what we had to say on the subject:
- Government Services. They say if you really want to learn how something works, you should to try it out for yourself. With this in mind we made blockchain in government services the third theme of the year. From asset title registration, patient-controlled health data and self-sovereign identity to combating tax fraud and government waste, there is certainly a lot of potential for government agencies to use blockchain. Reaching it will mean addressing a number of issues, both technological and on the regulatory and policy side. More insight available here:
- Scalability, Interoperability and Sustainability. On October 31, the anniversary of the publication of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin white paper, blockchain as an idea and a technology officially turned 10 years old. While much has been achieved since then, we still have not seen mass adoption of this technology. We may however be close. For our fourth theme of the year we took a look at what it takes to build large-scale blockchain platforms and applications in Europe, focusing on the three parameters of scalability, interoperability and sustainability. Here is what we found:
E-Identity. Digital markets cannot function without reliable and secure ways to identify people, organisations, goods and services online. For this reason policy makers have sought to develop digital identity standards, such as Europe’s eIDAS electronic identification and trust services regulation. As identity will certainly be a key prerequisite for blockchain-based decentralised markets, we dedicated our fourth theme to the examination of the current state of the decentralised identity framework. We were in particular interested in clarifying the use of blockchains for decentralised identities as well as defining the infrastructure and regulatory requirements for a European blockchain infrastructure identity module. Here is our work on that subject to date:
- Legal recognition of blockchain and smart contracts. By transforming how we do things in society, our technologies often raise interesting, sometimes thorny, questions of law and regulation. This is certainly the case with blockchain, which can in theory be used to disrupt any number of important social and economic institutions. Taking a look at how, and what that means, was the subject of our sixth and final theme in 2018, which we kicked off with our workshop in December. As we have already discovered, there are many applications of blockchain technology for which existing laws and regulations, perhaps with some clarifications, should suffice. There are novel applications too, however, like decentralised autonomous organisations, which may require new sets of laws and precedents. For more see:
Looking ahead: What we have planned for year two
After returning from the holiday break in early January, we set to work planning the agenda for year two. While our goal is to continue to examine important issues facing blockchain in Europe, having tackled most of the big-ticket items in year one, we are now more focused on narrower questions. Here is a look at what we have in store.
- Supply chain and traceability: use cases overview. Today’s global supply chains are long, heterogeneous, and involve large numbers of stakeholders in many different jurisdictions. Processes are also often slow and expensive, in many cases still involving paper-based solutions. This has made supply chain one of the most promising early use cases for blockchain, and one in which we see a lot of activity. In our first theme of 2019 we are looking to take a deep dive into the current state of global supply chains and how blockchain can be applied, as well as looking at some of the projects and approaches currently being developed to meet this challenge.
- Convergence of Blockchain, AI and IoT. Blockchain is one of the key emerging technologies set to disrupt our world over the next few decades, but it is by no means the only one. Other technologies like artificial intelligence and the Internet of things will also be key in transforming the ways in which we interact with each other as well as create and use information. As we continue our journey through the fourth industrial revolution, moving to a fully digital economy with radical automation, we can expect blockchain technology to play an important role in facilitating trusted transactions and helping provide verifiable data. This will be particularly important as machines increasingly become autonomous actors in our societies. In our second theme of 2019 we will take a deep dive into technological convergence, focusing on the role of blockchain in the interplay of disruptive tech.
- Our workshop on Convergence of Blockchain, AI and IoT is set for March 28 in Brussels. Register
- Governance and new organisational challenges. The core value proposition of blockchain technology is decentralisation. That brings with it new business models, new ways of transacting, but also new ways of organising ourselves. While we tend to focus on the technological issues facing the blockchain community, decentralised platforms and markets also raise new governance challenges. In our opinion, this is one of the most interesting if less discussed issues in this new industry, and so the subject of our third theme of 2019.
- Workshop on Governance tentatively scheduled for April 30 in Brussels. Details to follow.
- Digital assets. We cannot have a truly digital economy without digital assets. Another core value proposition of blockchain, and likely one of the key use cases for this technology, is in facilitating the tokenisation of assets of all kinds. How this can be done, and what the potential legal and regulatory ramifications are, is the subject of our fourth theme of the year. Spoiler: this is about much more than just security tokens.
- Our Digital Assets workshop is tentatively scheduled for May 24 in Brussels. Details to come.
- Use cases in the healthcare sector. Along with supply chain, healthcare is emerging as one of the most promising early sectors for blockchain transformation. That’s because here too we are dealing with a vast sector comprising many stakeholders and highly dependent on the exchange of trusted, and often highly confidential, data. There are many promising projects looking at blockchain in healthcare. In our fifth theme of 2019, we will take a look at some of these, and explore the many potential uses of this technology in this extremely important industry.
- Our Use Cases in the Healthcare Sector workshop is tentatively scheduled for June 27 in Brussels. Details to come.
As you can see, we have a busy spring planned. And that of course is not the end of the story. We expect to have an equally full programme for you in the fall, which we will communicate as soon as we can.
In the meantime, we hope you have and can continue to profit from our work, and as always we encourage any and all to participate in the discussions. Simply visit us at eublockchainforum.eu.
With best regards,
The European Union Blockchain Observatory & Forum