Innovation is a policy priority for the European Union. Former Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis remarked, back in 2020, in relation to blockchains, ‘To remain competitive, Europe must embrace this innovation.’ Article 173 of the TFEU determines that the European Union and its member states must work towards the Union’s competitiveness, which includes the fostering of innovation and technological development. And it is our opinion that public authorities can encourage innovation in becoming early adopters of blockchain technology. Early adoption by public authorities lends credibility to the technology and generates trust, a crucial factor in large-scale adoption.
Typically, the national level is framed as the appropriate scale of experimentation. A noteworthy example is Sweden, which is experimenting with distributed ledgers for land registries after Georgia became the first country to register land titles using the technology. Ukraine in its turn had partnered with Bitfury to put government data on a blockchain with the hope of addressing concerns over transparency and accountability. Finally Turkey has Tykn, a project that addresses the current and incoming refugees in the country, creati allowing them to “acquire reliable and verifiable documentation”.
However, for larger projects, the European Union can be an appropriate actor. In 2017 the Commission indeed issued a call for tenders for a study on the feasibility of an EU blockchain infrastructure, to determine when and how blockchain may help deliver supranational services and implement policies more efficiently. These efforts have now evolved into the European Blockchain Partnership (EBP) launched in 2021, particularly their Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI). According to their strategy document, EBSI is a peer-to-peer network of interconnected nodes that runs a blockchain-based services infrastructure. At least one node will be run by each member of the EBP - the 27 EU nations, Norway, Liechtenstein, and the European Commission.
EBSI is being developed iteratively by design, beginning with a limited set of focused applications and gradually broadening them. The first group of EBSI use cases includes notarization, managing the European digital identity system, diplomas and educational qualifications, and trustworthy data sharing. The EBP foresees developing in the direction of financing small and medium-sized businesses (SME), improving cross-border access to welfare services, and streamlining the administration of cross-border and cross-authority asylum demand processes.
Such projects give rise to dialogue between governments and external experts, which allows both sides to reach a common understanding of their respective needs and areas where a new technology promises to be most beneficial. Blockchain is broadening horizons and shaping the future – and we are just beginning to witness that.