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Digital sovereignty: from separatism to realism?

On 27 May 2021, Capgemini and Orange announced the establishment of a joint company called “Bleu”. Its goal will be to provide a trusted cloud “in an independent environment“, “operating fully under French and European jurisdictions” and guaranteeing “operational autonomy“. The press release—published under the dual header of both founders—explains that “Bleu will be operated from France by its own staff.

For supporters of European digital sovereignty, this says it all. The cloud sector is predominantly populated by American and soon Chinese players. However, European companies using these services need to be guaranteed the confidentiality and integrity of the data entrusted to them, to have legal recourse before their own jurisdictions under their own national laws, to be protected from the extra-territoriality of US law (Cloud Act), and to be assured of the absence of any capture of their data by the US or China.

But the most striking event of the Blue initiative is the announced partnership with Microsoft and its Office or Microsoft 365 and Azure solutions. This partnership seems contrary to the notion of European digital sovereignty. The answer to this objection lies in one promise and one sentence: technical and organisational separation. Bleu undertakes to keeping the Seattle-based giant away from European customers’ hosted data. It has been announced that the ANSSI and its SecNumCloud certification will be called in to help qualify this new trusted cloud.

One can only rejoice about this promising announcement. The fact remains that there is indeed a European and French cloud computing industry. The best proof is the presence of OVH, Oodrive, and a host of medium-sized or, more often, small companies. Bleu should not come and hunt on their land to weaken them. Beyond this risk, this announcement endorses both a major failure and a change of doctrine.

The failure is that of the European Commission. For the first 15 years of the new millennium, it has been unable to implement a public policy that would allow the emergence of European digital champions capable of competing with the American giants. However, without alternative European offers, sovereignty is just wishful thinking, since customers are forced to deal with the giants from across the Atlantic.

The recent arrival in the Commission of Thierry Breton—the only Commissioner out of the 27 coming from the industry—marked a welcome change in tone and probably an awareness of the problem. The Bleu initiative is the first manifestation of this change of doctrine, which moves the European Union from a declared but theoretical total separatism to a certain realism.

The future will tell whether European users will have found an adequate response to their legitimate quest for independence.