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Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy

Negotiating data in a global setting: opportunities, challenges and the common good

  • Project Lead: Wainer Lusoli
  • Timeline: 2018-2019
  • Keywords: Open data, trade negotiations, common good, global democracy
  • Funding Organisation: European Commission



This project examines the value of data in negotiations, both formal such as trade agreements and less so such as science and technology agreements. Data – for instance health data, industry data and consumer data – is increasingly important in advanced economies for companies and governments. Data that is open and the possibility for it to flow freely across European borders are the linchpin of the Digital Single Market strategy of the European Commission, to support the single market. Today, there are specific regulatory regimes for data that is e.g. related to individuals (personal data), data that is related to security and data from space observation. In science, open data enable breakthroughs and innovation: scientific progress is unthinkable without sharing research data across national boundaries and scientific domains. The European insitutions and recent rotating Presidencies of the Council of the European Union have set clear plans for open data in various pillars of the Union. In short, open data is held today in the EU as a necessity; it is a policy domain where Europe leads.

However, there is far less understanding of the value of data, and how to best use it, in relation to third countries and trading partners of the EU, in trade agreements and as a tool of science diplomacy. Traditionally, regulation is essential to remove obstacles in the single market rather than to create opportunities on the global stage – at least in the short-medium term. But the effects of EU regulation do not stop in Europe. Increasingly, data is discussed in free trade negotiations per se (e.g. Canada, Japan, TISA, TTiP) not just as an intangible underpinning trade in services and goods. The so-called gravity effects of EU regulation on foreign companies (“Brussels effect”) are increasingly understood.

There is evidence that removing non-tariff trade barriers between trading partners also benefits non-signatories. The deeper the nature of the agreements, the greater the externalities for third parties and the greater the integration of global value chains. This may well apply to data. But there are trade-offs in how or to what extent to regulate data that belongs to companies (close to market) or that is shared outside the EU borders (e.g. for security and science).

The very idea of  “free flow of data” spans far beyond Europe. The idea that growth depends on increasingly inter-connected data markets is one of the latest additions to the Washington Consensus on globalism. This, in turn, speaks directly to the debate on global democracy, the common good and the Global South, where the benefits of free flows of labour, capitals and possibly data are being contested. It is important therefore to have an understanding, empirically informed, of what degree of openness of data, what optimal amount of “free flow”, and what degree instead of closeness, control and negotiatio could increase the welfare of companies, governments and ultimately people globally.

For this, it is useful to start framing data as a specific asset for EU's relations with its global partners, both in formal negotiation settings (e.g. in trade agreements) and in more informal collaboration agreements. There is limited if any evidence, policy papers and academic articles that may help policy makers to factor data in their negotiations.

The main aim of this study is to gather evidence on data as an asset in different fields of economic activity, to provide a new perspective on a possible negotiating asset and to draft policy advice based on this evidence – to fine-tune policies in relation to data in different economic areas and to exert a degree of control on data.

The project investigates real cases of data in negotiations  by means of desk research, case studies and in-depth interviews with key informants. It will:

  1. define data as an asset, not only in the internal market, and as an object of negotiation in this respect,
  2. explore the extent to which it is present, or not, in formal and informal negotiations in several domains (e.g. personal data, space data, health data),
  3. examine how it is currently framed and used in these negotiations; and, crucially,
  4. propose how it may be used in negotiations to generate value.