Of the 28 EU member states, 22 (including the UK) have sought to flex the muscle of the single market by signing a declaration on establishing a European blockchain partnership.

The initiative hangs on to the coat-tails of the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum; a project that is dedicated to investing €300 million in blockchain projects. The project intends to approach blockchain opportunities in a harmonised way by developing an EU-wide infrastructure that can enhance value-based, trusted, user-centric digital services.

The premise of the initiative is that ‘Europe is well placed to take a global leadership position in the development and application of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies which can change the way citizens and organisations collaborate, share information, execute transactions, organise and deliver services’. Each of the signatories have pledged to work together ‘towards realising the potential of blockchain-based services for the benefit of citizens, society and economy’.

On a practical level, this means the following:

  • By September 2018 the 22 will identify an initial set of existing cross-border digital public sector services that would gain added value from the support of a blockchain services infrastructure and starting to explore other use cases.
  • By the end of 2018, the 22 will assist the commission in preparing the technical specifications of this initiative, defining the appropriate governance model and identifying other framework conditions which are essential to its success (including regulatory compliance), and to consider possible co-operation between the public and private sectors.
  • The 22 will sharing experiences, best practice and key takeaways related to the implementation of blockchain applications.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

On the same day, 25 member states signed a declaration on co-operation on artificial intelligence. This represents one of numerous steps on the way to a comprehensive European approach to AI and robotics. The text of this integrated approach is due to be published in the first half of this year, while the declaration itself states that the signatories will 'work towards such integration on AI in order to increase the EU’s competitiveness, attractiveness and excellence in R&D in AI', including through the exchange of ideas and best practice.

These commitments are welcome in the ongoing development of a broader array of blockchain, distributed ledger technology (DLT) and AI applications. The hope is that with such high-level backing the outcomes will not end up being solutions looking for problems.

From a UK perspective, it will also be interesting to see whether the critical mass that has built up in the UK’s tech and fintech sectors, will continue to play any part in cross-border digital public services applications after the UK leaves the EU. This is particularly interesting considering that they intend to launch the first cross-border blockchain actions by the end of 2019.