The Night Lights of Europe (as seen from space)

The night lights of Europe (as seen from space). Credit: NASA/GSFC

It’s been a year since the EU launched its Digital Single Market Strategy and I thought it would be a good time to focus on how this has been developing in the context of research.

As a priority set out in the European Commission’s political guidelines published in July 2014, there have been high hopes for the Digital Single Market. The Commission estimates that a connected digital single market could stimulate up to €250 billion of additional growth. This is interesting for research – rapid technological change has generated new ways of conducting research, permitted scientists to communicate more efficiently than ever before, and has encouraged greater citizen access to science.

The Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy set out a number of planned initiatives, a range of which are relevant to the research agenda such as copyright reform and open science.

Firstly, the Commission has announced its intention to review the EU copyright framework. At present the copyright regime differs across member states, and this review seeks to modernise and harmonise it. The Commission issued its proposed plan for this in December 2015 and has already published the first of a series of legislative proposals that are all expected to be published in 2016.

One of the upcoming proposals will focus on areas where exceptions to copyright rules are essential for the functioning of the digital single market and objectives such as the promotion of science for the public good. One such exception that comes under the EU copyright framework is to allow text and data mining – the extraction and analysis of large volumes of data from journal articles and other research outputs. The UK is currently the only EU Member State that has an exception allowing text and data mining for non-commercial research. In practice, this means that a UK-based researcher undertaking non-commercial research is able to mine any content that they have legal access to.

The Commission has proposed a mandatory exception for research for public interest research organisations in the forthcoming copyright legislation which would harmonise this practice across the EU. Once the Commission has published its proposal, it will be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, who may have a range of views.

Secondly, the Commission has been ramping up its discussions on open access. The Netherlands has prioritised open data as part of its six month Presidency of the Council of the European Union. They recently hosted a two day Open Science conference in Amsterdam, resulting in a Call for Action on Open Science. National Ministers from EU Member States responsible for trade, economy, industry, research and innovation, and space, plus appropriate European Commissioners will meet as part of the Competitiveness Council on 26/27 May 2016 where they will agree on future plans for open science.

Thirdly, Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, has made ‘open science’ one of his three priorities (I blogged about these priorities last year). The Royal Society’s “Science as an Open Enterprise” report stated that ‘open inquiry is at the heart of the scientific enterprise’. DG Research has announced plans to create an ‘Open Science Policy Platform’ (OSPP) advisory group of 20-30 high level open science experts to consider how to develop and implement a European open science policy. The group will also be asked to advise the Commission on open science policy; to suggest areas for policy development; and to support policy from its inception to application. We expect to hear who will be on the group at the Competitiveness Council in May.

There are also plans afoot to create a European Open Science Cloud as a secure environment to host, store and process research data, across disciplines and national boundaries. An expert Group of ten high level experts has been appointed to provide the Commission advice on the initiative, reviewing not only the technical challenges but also what is needed in terms of governance and data.

Lastly, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has recently been adopted by the European Parliament, and Member States will have two years to implement this legislation. Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market, has emphasised that the data protection reform will help the Digital Single Market flourish.

It is difficult to assess the impact of this Regulation on research in the UK, as it has not yet been applied into UK law. However, the European research community is confident that this will not prevent research accessing personal data from going ahead and will result in harmonisation of data protection approaches across the EU.

As you can see, lots of different activities underway present a range of opportunities for research. We will be following these closely and working to ensure the best outcomes that allow research to go ahead safely and securely.