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Senior members of Europe’s Gaia-X cloud computing initiative have voiced concerns about sponsorship of its annual gathering in Milan by Chinese tech companies Huawei and Alibaba, according to internal correspondence seen by POLITICO.
In emails traded between board members and the group’s management ahead of the summit, which kicks off on November 18, several board members aired reservations about having the Chinese firms — as well as American cloud giants Amazon Web Services and Microsoft — being seen as key backers of an initiative geared at promoting European data „sovereignty.“
“There are better ways to increase our revenues [than via sponsorship]. However it is impossible now to step back without damaging consequences,” wrote Hubert Tardieu, Gaia-X’s former chairman who is now an independent board member tasked with handling government relations.
In another email, board member Thomas Hahn wrote: “We offered sponsoring possibilities ‘to all’ and therefore we have to accept this,“ referring to sponsorship by the Chinese and American companies, which were mentioned in the emails.
„We have seriously ‚room for improvement‘,“ added Hahn, a Siemens executive.
The emails were intended to obtain approval from board members for the event’s sponsors, which were chosen by Gaia-X’s management.
Huawei, Alibaba, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services are all members of Gaia-X, which was founded in June of 2020 as part of a push to improve security and control over European data. Their sponsorship of the Milan event was approved by the board, which also includes European tech companies.
But the misgivings expressed in the emails reflect unease among some of the group’s most senior members about the handling of the influence of foreign companies on Gaia-X, which was founded in a bid to create a „trustworthy, sovereign digital infrastructure for Europe,” according to the group.
They also reflect broader criticisms, reported by POLITICO last month, from participants who lament infighting and confusion about the overall aims of Gaia-X, as well as the outsize role of some foreign companies in its technical committees.
Asked about Gaia-X’s sponsorship policies, CEO Francesco Bonfiglio wrote in an emailed statement that the organization applies „the same internal sponsorship rules for all our members that have decided to support the Summit.“
„We decided from the beginning to onboard members from all over the world, that are willing to follow our rules and support our mission strictly guided by European principles and values ensured by our European Board. Our approach is always open, transparent, and inclusive across all of them and fully in line with the competition laws,” he added.
The disagreements are coming to light as Gaia-X opens its annual summit where Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier, Spain and Portugal’s digital secretaries of state, as well as top European Commission digital policymaker Roberto Viola will speak.
The organization is expected to unveil “the next phase of Gaia-X research, development and progress made so far, while equally featuring an exciting collection of key speakers, reverent sponsors,” according to a press release, which also thanked the sponsors for making „this virtual event possible.“
A tweet sent by Gaia-X’s official account on November 13 said: „@alibaba_cloud is sponsor of the #GaiaX#Summit21. With their active contribution to the Gaia-X, they demonstrate their willingness to work with #European players and the interest and commitment to support the goal of GaiaX objectives driven by European principles & values“
In the press release, Alibaba Cloud, Huawei and Amazon Web Services are listed as sponsors along with 16 other European and foreign cloud companies including Italian cloud company Aruba and Spanish open source cloud firm OpenNebula, among others. Microsoft is listed separately on the event’s website.
Gaia-X has been working on new rules aimed at ramping up trust and data security in clouds amid fears of U.S. surveillance and Chinese espionage. A new Gaia-X labeling system would ensure customers’ data is being stored and processed in Europe and is “immune” from non-European laws, according to a document seen by POLITICO.
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