EU plans ‘common data spaces’ to exploit agriculture and health potential

The EU aims to create common data spaces to increase the quality of services when it comes to agriculture and healthcare, according to a European Commission data strategy draft seen by

In the field of agriculture, inspired by a milestone data-sharing deal signed by EU agri-food operators in 2018, the EU executive will propose a common data space to take advantage of the potential of precision agriculture as well as optimise farming controls. In April 2018, nine organisations and associations signed the EU Code of Conduct on Agricultural Data Sharing by Contractual Arrangement. The objective of the voluntary initiative was to create a framework of cooperation among agri-food chain operators to make the best use of much-needed data in a constantly digitising farming sector.


According to the draft document, data will help EU farming enhance its sustainability performance and competitiveness. “Processing and analysing production data, especially in combination with other data on the supply chain and other types of data, such as earth observation or meteorological data, allows for a precise and tailored application of production approaches at farm level,” the document reads. The Commission says this initiative would eventually lead to a “neutral platform” for sharing and pooling both private and public agricultural data. “This could support the emergence of an innovative data-driven ecosystem based on fair contractual relations, as well as strengthen the capacities for monitoring […] and reducing administrative burden for government and beneficiaries,” the document added.


The monitoring of parcels under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has always been a headache for EU member states, with checks on the spot proving largely inefficient so far. Already in 2017, an EU official told EURACTIV that the executive was mulling incentives for space technologies in farm controls.


Modernising healthcare


As far as the healthcare sector is concerned, the Commission aims to put forward “legislative or non-legislative” measures for the creation of a common health data space. This was already provided in the mission letter of Ursula von der Leyen to EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. Although it heavily relies on the “willingness” of EU member states and healthcare providers to make it work in practice, the Commission believes that sharing health data creates a win-win situation for all stakeholders, from citizens and government to pharma industry. Data-sharing, the Commission says, can enable access to and proper assessment of medicines, as well as break the silos when it comes to the portability of EU citizens’ healthcare data from one member state to another, and beyond.


“Citizens have the right in particular to access and control their personal health data and to request their portability, but implementation of this right is fragmented,” the document said. The executive explains that electronic health records, strictly in line with the GDPR rules, will help improve access to quality care, achieve cost-effectiveness of care delivery and contribute to the modernisation of health systems.


The cross-border flow of data has taken centre stage in the discussion in Brussels. Right now, when citizens move to another EU member state, their healthcare data is in fact simply “lost”. Advocates of the digitisation of healthcare say data mobility, or the “fifth freedom”, in the EU could unlock the potential of innovation in the sector and make EU patients’ lives easier. According to the draft, the executive will enable by 2022 the exchange of patients’ electronic summaries and e-Prescriptions among 22 states (participating in the eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure).


The Commission believes national governments and the industry could also benefit from this initiative. The governments will be able to better assess medical products while the industry’s access to health data will help it increase its competitiveness. The discussion over value-based healthcare, according to which medicines are paid based on patient health outcomes, is still ongoing in Europe. An innovative medicine can frequently increase the survival rate of patients by a couple of years, or improve patients’ everyday life in general. But for critics, this is not enough to remunerate “innovation”. However, the pharma industry insists that all relevant factors should be considered, including the social impact as well as the benefits at the economic level. If a patient is able to remain at work for more years, the industry argues, this significantly impacts the general productivity.


A health data space also serves the Commission’s much-awaited EU-wide cancer plan, which seems to rely on a data-driven approach. “We need to make sure that we are monitoring the progress. And you can only measure if you have the information,” Martin Seychell, deputy director-general for health and food safety at the European Commission, told EURACTIV at the 2019 Gastein Forum, adding that data could range from cancer registries to genomic banks.



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