Skip to Content

Data spaces mark a new era in European data sharing

Jan 29, 2024

Data sharing is increasingly fundamental to the European economy and a central pillar of the European Strategy for data. In this article, we explore why data is pivotal to Europe’s future, and how data sharing is evolving with the emergence of data spaces.

Why has the European Commission prioritized data?

With the publication of the European Strategy for data in 2020, the European Commission set out to “become a leading role model for a society empowered by data to make better decisions – in business and the public sector.” The strategy rightfully described data as “an essential resource for economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, job creation and societal progress in general”. The expected value-add of data is significant: the European Commission estimated that the value of the data economy in the EU27 would reach €829 billion in 2025.

From open data to data spaces

Often the notion of data sharing is first and foremost associated with open data, i.e. data that anyone can access, use and share free of charge.

Notably, the European Commission saw the value of open government information and data with the Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive at least 20 years ago, which was subsequently replaced by the Directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information in 2019. In retrospect, both directives were indeed pioneering efforts.

However, despite these efforts, only a tiny fraction of extant government and private sector data has been declared as open data – and hence is being shared. In order to broaden the scope of data sharing in the European Union and to “bring benefits for citizens, for example through improved personalized medicine, new mobility and through its contribution to the European Green Deal” the European Strategy for data formulates further actions around four pillars: first, a cross-sectoral governance framework for data access and use; second, investments in data and strengthening Europe’s capabilities and infrastructures for hosting, processing and using data and enhancing interoperability; third, empowering individuals, investing in skills and in SMEs and fourth, common European data spaces in strategic sectors and domains of public interest.

What is a data space?

“Traditional” data sharing is hampered by various organizational, technical, budgetary, and legal barriers – which organizations that want to share data largely need to overcome by themselves. Perhaps even more importantly, public and private sector organizations often lack incentives to incur the costs for data sharing and fear that sharing data with third parties will expose them to governance and business risks.

The European Commission’s concept of data spaces is aimed at overcoming these barriers. Specifically, the European vision of data spaces includes data-sharing tools and services, a decentralized approach, fair and transparent governance provisions for data access and provisioning rights, as well as standards to improve the availability, quality and interoperability of data.      

Hence, and somewhat counterintuitively, a data space should not be thought of as a forum or platform, but more as a mode of data sharing where organizational and individual actors pool and exchange data in a way that is safe, fair, practical and clear.

Data spaces in practice

The 2020 European data strategy announced the creation of ten data spaces in ten sectors and domains “where the use of data will have systemic impact on the entire ecosystem, but also on citizens”: health, agriculture, manufacturing, energy, mobility, financial, public administration, skills, the European Open Science Cloud and the overarching priority of meeting the Green Deal objectives. The identification of specific sectors and domains is well-founded as it allows the respective data spaces to cater to differences in business use cases, data sharing incentives, degree of public interest, and regulatory standards.

Since 2020, the EU has issued additional regulations, directives or legislative proposals to boost data sharing, such as the Data Governance Act or the Proposal for a Regulation on the European Health Data Space.

Also, the necessary funding has been released and the work on setting up the data spaces has commenced. Most of the data spaces mentioned above are still at a formative stage and are currently focusing on delivering project outputs and deployment roadmaps. Some, however, have progressed further and are in the implementation or the operational stages.

Thanks to its ability to draw on the prior experiences, infrastructure and the solid data governance and model of the cultural heritage project Europeana, the Data Space for Cultural Heritage (DS4CH) has advanced particularly well. Not only does it already provide access to digital cultural heritage and digital learning resources and allow participants to exchange data, it also serves as a role model by providing technology products and services in an open-source approach for reuse.

The road ahead

Data spaces hold great potential for the way that public and private data is used and shared – and can help drive social and economic innovation in Europe. Hence, we strongly believe that it is worth paying closer attention to the development of data spaces, and that both public sector and private organizations should examine the opportunities data spaces hold for them more seriously.  

Granted, the European Commission’s data spaces endeavor is ambitious, complex and still needs to come to full fruition. On the upside, the extant challenges and necessary steps to overcome are becoming increasingly well-understood. For instance, in November 2023, the EU’s Data Sharing Support Centre (DSSC) – which we support along with our consortium partners –  issued recommendations for the future roadmaps for data spaces. These aim to boost the technical and infrastructure foundation for fully operationalizing data spaces, enhancing interoperability within and across data spaces, and facilitating collaboration with other data spaces.

The DSSC also offers a starter kit  that provides guidance for individuals and organizations that want to establish or take part in a data space. Furthermore, there are various organizations and associations such as Gaia-X, the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA) and Mydata Global that are committed supporters of the principle of data sharing and offer their deep expertise and wide-ranging support as well.

If you are interested in learning more about data spaces and how to reap the data sharing dividend, please have a look at our Connecting the dots research and our view on collaborative data ecosystems. We are of course also more than happy to discuss your views and questions on data sharing and data spaces.


Dr. Philipp Fuerst

VP Data-Driven Government & Offer Leader, Global Public Sector
To unlock the value of their data, governments need to make organizational changes and meet new technology requirements. Yet, the many examples of public sector agencies that have already successfully embarked on the journey to become data-driven organizations show that these hurdles can be overcome. Their gains in decision making, operational efficiency and citizen experience are tangible and significant. Our clients believe the benefits they have reaped are well worth the effort.

Peter Kraemer

Director Data Sovereignty Solutions, Capgemini
“A European data economy based on openness, fairness and transparency is possible, and we are determined to help make it a reality. In a flourishing data economy, all sectors will have new ways to generate value. Sovereignty means making independent and well-informed decisions about our digital interactions: where data is stored, how it is processed, and who can access it. Data spaces make these principles concrete, and we are committed to helping them grow.”