Intense lobbying within Gaia-X is stalling the European cloud project’s progress, according to one of its board members, who says the way to solve the blockage is to limit trade associations’ contributions to the organization’s working groups.
Francisco Mingorance is himself a lobbyist, as the secretary-general of Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers in Europe (CISPE). He was elected to Gaia-X’s board in June last year.
Mingorance said trade associations were “just playing the process to try to drive outcomes either in the direction that fits them, or to block them. We’ve had a working group blocked for weeks, months, because of intense lobbying.”
CISPE is itself part of some of the working groups, and while Mingorance stopped short of suggesting lobbies’ voting power should be stripped, he said they should “only be participating as observers” and “have no say in substantive matters,” explaining it was “a bit of a crunch time” for Gaia-X, which “needs to show that it has something to offer” ahead of a critical summit in November.
A nonprofit organization comprising about 350 companies and associations, Gaia-X is part of Europe’s attempt to control how its data is protected and tackle unfair practices in the cloud industry. Two of its missions are to set up industry-specific data exchanges, like one for carmakers called Catena-X, and to create a labeling system to ensure customers’ data is stored and processed in Europe and protect it from non-European laws.
Last year, the project came under fire from several of its members, who accused it of being slow and bloated. Such issues, Mingorance suggested, still need to be addressed ahead of November’s summit, when Gaia-X is expected to show progress on its initiatives.
His complaints echo those of Michel Paulin, the CEO of OVHcloud, a French cloud provider that is also on the board of Gaia-X and a member of CISPE. Paulin told POLITICO in June that “some want to scupper the project, slow it down or discredit it. It’s slow, too slow. There are people who want it not to succeed, under the pretense of participating.”
Mingorance accused two other lobbies — Bitkom and DigitalEurope — of blocking progress, saying they “are not providing any services. They’re providing only lobbying services. So this adds no value to our technical working group.”
While CISPE is a founding member of Gaia-X and Bitkom and DigitalEurope are not, all three represent the interests of U.S. tech giants such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft, who are also Gaia-X members. Paulin said in November that non-European members, which include Chinese firms Alibaba and Huawei, should abide by Gaia-X sovereignty rules or be expelled from the consortium.
DigitalEurope also sits on the board and co-chairs Gaia-X’s Labels and Qualifications working group. Its Director General Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl said the lobby also provided “technical contributions” to other Gaia-X groups.
Responding to Mingorance’s comments, Bonefeld-Dahl said in a statement that “we not only provide expertise and knowledge about organizational and policy issues [in the working groups], but we also represent our 41 member national associations … over 36,000 businesses, which would otherwise be underrepresented within Gaia-X.”
“We must continue the good direction of travel,” she added. “We should increase participation, and must of course continue to become even more inclusive and transparent.”
She argued that allowing associations such as hers to continue to contribute fully would be in line with a so-called comfort letter that the European Commission sent to Gaia-X in October last year, which encouraged “inclusivity” in working groups.
Bitkom, a German digital association representing more than 2,000 companies, also defended its role in Gaia-X, pointing to work done on the Policy Rules Committee and the Dataspace Business Committee.
Susanne Dehmel, Bitkom’s managing director and Gaia-X board member, said, “Bitkom representatives are actively involved and contributing in the working groups of Gaia-X on basis of their specialist backgrounds,” and noted that the project “is generating widespread interest in the German business community.”
In an interview with POLITICO, Gaia-X CEO Francesco Bonfiglio said the slow pace was the product of a lack of consensus in the cloud market as a whole.
“Sometimes I’m accused of trying to drive it like my own business unit but, of course, I cannot do that,” he said. “Listening to everybody is important, but every single decision we take is a decision made by the market, so maybe we are slow in taking some decisions … doing things faster is simply not possible because you have to bring everybody on board.”
He also defended the presence of non-European tech giants, saying, “The non-European players sitting at our working tables have exactly the same rights as the European players. So there is no way they can hijack or make any working group hostage of their size, or their thoughts, simply because they are broader than others.”
Bonfiglio said the upcoming summit in Paris on November 17-18 will “show the first deliverables of Gaia-X,” while Mingorance said the project must seize the occasion to deliver a “demo catalogue of services.”
Bonfiglio said, “By the end of 2022, we want to demonstrate what Gaia-X is and show that it’s possible.”
Clothilde Goujard contributed reporting.
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