MILAN — Gaia-X’s CEO defended the European cloud project as internal divisions over the role of foreign tech companies spilled into the open and a prominent member slammed the door.
“We are open to everybody but we have strict control on our board of our mission and vision,” Francesco Bonfiglio told journalists on the last day of Gaia-X’s summit in Milan. “There’s no way we can be hijacked.”
The comments came less than a day after French cloud provider Scaleway crashed out of the project, saying it was being “sidetracked and slowed down” in a way that benefits U.S. cloud giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
Those disagreements were on display in emails obtained by POLITICO earlier this week in which board members expressed misgivings about Chinese and American tech companies sponsoring Gaia-X’s annual summit, echoing broader criticisms about the project’s overall direction.
“Anybody who believes that the solution for European digital trust is to close the doors to non-Europeans doesn’t understand what’s happening with global data,” Bonfiglio added.
Maximillian Ahrens, chairman of Gaia-X’s board, said membership of the alliance was carefully assessed but that the mantra of the organization was openness and inclusion.
“We have rules that companies cannot join if they have shown that they are not working with the data in the right manner, when there have been data breaches going on, they cannot join and that’s why we accept each one of them, one by one,” he said.
He added: “Other than that, it’s open for them to join, to contribute in the working groups and that’s exactly the notion of openness and inclusion. I think what we will derive from that is a much stronger solution.”
Ahrens said some European members might have thought at the beginning of the project “that Gaia-X would be an association to help protect their own market against the rest of the world.”
“We think and act as one, as difficult as it can be with such a broad membership,” said Bonfiglio. “We are totally aware of the complexity but we’re walking the talk.”
Some of the criticisms against Gaia-X focus on its self-professed embrace of “digital sovereignty” — or the idea of gaining more control over technology in the bloc.
Bonfiglio said that digital sovereignty was being implemented through new rules that were announced during the summit to ramp up trust and data security in clouds.
He also highlighted the fact that the European Commission, amid the controversy, had published a so-called “letter of comfort” approving the project’s openness to all members, regardless of origin.
Gaia-X is set to roll out a new labelling system that would ensure customers’ data is being stored and processed in Europe and is “immune” from non-European laws.
The alliance said the first Gaia-X compliant cloud services would be ready next year.
The alliance also announced it had received backing from the Commission’s competition arm to reinforce Europe’s competitiveness in the cloud industry and expand the deployment of cloud across the world.
Meanwhile, in a recorded message, Germany’s Economy Minister Peter Altermaier said he was impressed by the progress of the project, which will have a “huge impact paving our way towards digital sovereignty and a rich data economy.”
France’s economy minister, Bruno Lemaire, doubled down on the importance of Gaia-X to “build the Europe of digital independence.”
“I call our European partners, public and private, states and companies, to join this fantastic adventure that is to build our digital sovereignty. Stakes are high, that is nothing less than to protect our political sovereignty,” he added.