Cloud computing could help propel Europe out of the economic strife it finds itself in, according to a speech by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda.
Speaking at the European Internet Foundation event on Cloud Computing she stressed that the cloud revolution has to happen with Europe, rather than to it. This means Europe has to take an active role in ensuring everyone gets the full potential the cloud offers, rather than just sitting back and waiting for it to develop around them.
Kroes said that today information and communications technology represent half of Europe's productivity growth. By 2016, she said, the EU Internet economy could be over €800bn; over 5% of GDP.
"The cloud takes that further," she added. "In the five largest Member States alone, over five years, the cloud could be worth €2,000 for each and every citizen. And create a million new jobs too."
She went on to talk about the UK government and how it will be using the cloud. "In the UK, the government expects to save 20% of annual IT expenditure through harmonising the software for e-Government. Scientists and researchers, too, increasingly need to share huge amounts of data flexibly - and the cloud gives them a new tool to do this."
Kroes described this as an "amazing potential", but added that Europe must ensure it takes full advantage.
"Already, investing in ICT pays off better than most other kinds of capital investment. That applies to political investment, too," she said. "If we put the effort in today to ensure the right policies, then we can make the cloud not something we lurch and stumble towards - but something we embrace."
If Europe does not embrace it, the danger is that barriers will remain in the way of widespread adoption of cloud computing, and the benefits it can bring.
In her speech she spelt out the dangers: "Potential users are seriously uncertain if not confused: they don't know how their data will be protected; whether they will need a law degree to sign up for a contract with confidence; they are concerned about enforceability, lock-in, and data portability. For example, 90% of cloud users would have no idea about who is legally liable in case of a cross-border problem."
The gist of Kroes' speech is that the cloud should be simple - there should not be uncertainly or rumour when buying cloud services, and complex legal wranglings should not be involved. "You don't have to do all that when you buy a loaf of bread - nor should you when you buy cloud services," she said.
"And I don't want 27 different ways to solve all these issues within Europe, creating new barriers within the digital Single Market," Kroes added. "If our ambition were limited we might be content with data being locked up in national fortresses."
"That is why we are setting out a clear strategy on cloud computing. It will show how to overcome these issues. Creating a horizontal policy perspective on the cloud so that we don't take away with one hand the benefits we give with the other."
She concluded her speech by saying that €10m fund has been set up the new European Cloud Partnership, to develop common requirements for public sector cloud procurement.
"With those measures we can ensure the Cloud happens not to Europe but with Europe," she concluded.