The EU’s Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, has set out the key points of the EU’s plan to 'thrive' in the metaverse - or metaverses. EU Commission President von der Leyen has, in parallel, referred the metaverse as both a ‘new digital opportunity’ but also one of the pressing challenges for the EU. The EU's approach is threefold and here we pick out the key EU actions specified:

1) 'People: a metaverse centred on Europe's values and rules'

The EU aims to ensure that 'people feel as safe in the virtual worlds as they do in the real one'. The EU will do this by:

  • using existing regulations for the digital space: the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), and seek to influence the development of the metaverses from the outset;
  • seeking that private metaverses are developed on interoperable standards; 'no single private player should hold the key to the public square or set its terms and conditions'.
  • launch a 'creative and interdisciplinary movement, aiming to develop standards, increase interoperability, maximising impact with the help of IT experts, regulatory experts citizens’ organisations and youth'.

2) 'Shaping the metaverses by mastering technologies'

In order to build a 'sustainable ecosystem' built on various blocks and technologies (e.g. software, platforms, 5G, HPC, clouds), the EU:

  • has launched the virtual and augmented reality industrial coalition 'bringing together stakeholders from key metaverse technologies' with a 'roadmap endorsed by over 40 EU organisations active in this space, from large organisations to SMEs, and universities';
  • seeks to pool EU, national and private funding to continue investment in research and 'breakthrough' technologies underpinning the metaverse, such as photonics, semiconductors and new materials, and boost hardware development and production in Europe;

3) 'A resilient connectivity infrastructure'

The metaverses will seek significant volumes of data being exchanged and harvested, as well as new types of commercial transactions, payments (digital, crypto, traditional), forms of identification and ownership (e.g. NFTs). These will result in 'even more intense pressure [on] the connectivity infrastructure'.

In the EU's view:

'The current situation, exacerbated during the Covid pandemic, shows a paradox of increasing volumes of data being carried on the infrastructures but decreasing revenues and appetite to invest to strengthen them and make them resilient. The current economic climate sees stagnating rewards for investment and increasing deployment costs for pure connectivity infrastructure.'

To address, this the EU 'will launch a comprehensive reflection and consultation on the vision and business model of the infrastructure that we need to carry the volumes of data and the instant and continuous interactions which will happen in the metaverses'. The EU's view is that in Europe, 'all market players benefiting from the digital transformation should make a fair and proportionate contribution to public goods, services and infrastructures, for the benefit of all Europeans.'

Two points to note:

  1. Growing investment and business in metaverses across jurisdictions, economies and demographics raises novel regulatory, legal and policy issues. The EU has been pro-active regulation before: think the GDPR and draft regulations for artificial intelligence (the EU AI Act). EU regulation for the metaverse could be on the horizon.
  2. Global approaches to encouraging innovation whilst addressing challenges in artificial intelligence demonstrate that different jurisdictions and regulators take diverging approaches: compare the EU's draft 'AI Act' against the UK's policy on anticipated minimalist regulatory intervention. We expect that attempts to regulate and legislate for the metaverses will take a similar direction - there will be global issues but diverging approaches.

There is not one but many metaverses being currently developed, as new generations of digital platforms offer possibilities for people to interact in completely innovative ways. Our European way to foster the virtual worlds is threefold: people, technologies and infrastructure.