Belgium to Push European Blockchain Network During EU Council Presidency, Digital Minister Says

EU-wide blockchain services could support the bloc’s pursuit of digital sovereignty, Mathieu Michel told CoinDesk.

AccessTimeIconDec 18, 2023 at 11:51 a.m. UTC
Updated Mar 9, 2024 at 2:16 a.m. UTC
  • Belgium is set to take on the presidency of the EU Council, which gathers government ministers from member states.
  • During its six-month presidency, Belgium's Digital Minister Mathieu Michel plans to gather political support for an EU-wide blockchain initiative.

Belgium will give Europe’s ambitious blockchain initiative a political push when it takes the EU Council presidency in January, the country’s digital minister said in an interview with CoinDesk.

Mathieu Michel has already shared his grand vision for an EU-wide digital infrastructure that – at the very least – could store records such as driving licenses and property titles on a common blockchain controlled by the bloc’s governments.

Key to that plan is the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI) initiative, which began in 2018 as a technical project. Michel said the goal is to rev up political support for it during Belgium’s six-month Council presidency and that eight member states are already on board.

“In the coming months, what we will do is to propose to other European countries to be involved in the project or to use the project for application,” Michel said.

The Council gathers government ministers from the European Union’s 27 member states and is the bloc’s highest political entity.

Prolific regulation

According to Michel, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology applications could be key to the EU’s pursuit of digital sovereignty, encompassing control over data and authority over cyberspace.

When it comes to guardrails for the digital space, the EU has been prolific in recent years, introducing legislative plans for everything from crypto to artificial intelligence, data sharing, a digital euro and even the metaverse. In fact, with the Markets in Crypto Asset (MiCA) regulation finalized this year, the bloc is set to become the first major jurisdiction in the world to have a comprehensive regime for the digital asset space.

Enough regulation, Michel says. Now, it’s time for Europe to put those digital innovations to good use.

EU countries were told in 2020 how to join the EBSI blockchain network by setting up their own nodes. But to avoid data silos, applications built on it should be interoperable across member states – something Michel said blockchain can help achieve.

“We are really bringing a lot of attention to privacy, but also transparency, control of the data. And with the blockchain, there is a technical aspect that can bring us that. And that's really, for example, the interoperability between the application in France, Italy and Spain,” Michel said.

To be first

Inviting political scrutiny to a technology project isn’t going to be a walk in the park. The EU’s big plans for a digital version of the euro have faced opposition from lawmakers in the bloc who are concerned about privacy implications and the expansion of government control.

Michel assures a unified blockchain infrastructure won’t be designed to collect any new data from citizens.

“Today, a lot of governments have data of the people, of the citizens. What we are talking about is a little bit of a paradigm shift,” he said, adding that the shift is in the way the government offers that data back to citizens.

It’s not mandatory to use blockchain, especially if it’s not going to help, Michel said, noting there is also a chance that blockchain tech could be replaced by something else altogether. Quantum computing, which promises ultra-fast problem-solving but is still some distance from coming to fruition, is already viewed as an existential threat to blockchain.

But that doesn’t mean the EU shouldn’t try, according to Michel.

“If you look at the sovereignty of Europe, we were not the first at connectivity. We were not the first in cloud services. Here, with blockchain technology, we could try to be the first,” Michel said.

“If we are not in advance, it means that we are already too late,” he added.

Edited by Nikhilesh De.


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Sandali Handagama

Sandali Handagama is CoinDesk's deputy managing editor for policy and regulations, EMEA. She does not own any crypto.