The EU and blockchain: taking the lead? (II)

|6-7-2017 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL |

In his article ‘The EU and blockchain: taking the lead? ‘, our expert Carlo de Meijer writes that the EU, after having a ‘wait and see’ attitude for a long time, seems to be taking steps (may be) to become one of the leading economic blocks in the blockchain race. He believes that it is worthwhile to take a closer look at the EU initiatives. We have made a summary of this article. In part (I) we dealt with the European Commission. Today we present you the summary of what Carlo de Meijer writes about the European Parliament, the European Central Bank and the European Supervisory Authorities.

European Parliament

European Parliament  votes for smart regulation of blockchain technology

Last year June the European Parliament voted for ‘smart regulation’ of blockchain technology, taking a hands-off approach. The MEPs voted in a proposal set out in a resolution drafted by Jakob von Weizsäcker, suggesting that a new task force established at the EU level which would be overseen by the European Commission, should build expertise in the underlying technology. It would also be tasked with recommending any necessary legislation, but the text warns against taking a ”heavy-handed approach” to this new technology.
The proposal clearly stated that distributed ledger technology should not be stifled by regulation at this early stage.

EPRS blockchain report

In February the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published a new report “How blockchain technology could change our lives”, providing an introduction for those “curious about blockchain technology” and aimed at stimulating reflection and discussion.

“Spotlight on Blockchain” workshop

In collaboration with the European Commission, the European Parliament has organised various blockchain events including a kick-off conference on “Demystifying Blockchain” and a series of workshops to look at blockchain developments and use case applications.
A session of discussion early May held at the European Parliament (EP) centred on the future of blockchain regulation in the 28-nation economic bloc. The “Spotlight on Blockchain” workshop, was hosted jointly by the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Part of the program initiated by the Blockchain Observatory was to cautiously approach the who, what and why of blockchain legislation.

European Central Bank

Report: Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) – challenges and opportunities for financial market infrastructures

The European central bank (ECB) has led a study to analyse the benefits and risks of blockchain technology and consider its possible integration in its market infrastructure. The final report named Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) – challenges and opportunities for financial market infrastructures was published in March this year.

In the report the ECB acknowledges the various benefits of DLT, such as the ability to lower back office costs and improve reconciliations by enabling automatic updates of records as well as shortening settlement cycles and therefore reducing collateral requirements.
The ECB however concluded that the distributed ledger technology does not (yet) meet the Bank’s requirements in terms of safety and efficiency. The bank is not firmly opposed to blockchain, but it considers that the technology is not mature enough to be integrated into its infrastructure as it is constantly evolving, citing deficiencies in safety and security. The report’s tone is in keeping with the ECB’s cautious approach to DLT and mirrors previous statements made by bank executives.
The European Central Bank has ruled out using distributed ledger technology within the so-called Eurosystem’s market infrastructure for the foreseeable future, until the software meets high safety and reliability standards.

“Yet the technology does not yet meet the ECB’s standards for safety and efficiency, says the report” “The ECB is open to considering new ways to enhance its market infrastructure. However, any technology-based innovation would have to meet high requirements in terms of safety and efficiency.

DLT Project Team

Nonetheless, the ECB is keeping its options open, recognising the benefits that the technology could bring to securities settlement. To this end, the ECB has created a DLT Task Force to “bring together market experts on financial innovation and cyber security. Its objective is to avoid any negative consequences of technological innovation regarding the harmonisation and integration of post-trade markets in Europe and to explore the potential of DLT to help remove some of the remaining barriers to a fully integrated post-trade market in Europe”. For that they hired a senior technology executive, Dirk Bullman, with practical experience in distributed ledger applications and front and back office project management expertise


The ECB will continue to monitor DLT’s developments and could use the technology in the administration of Target2Secrities. The report states that DLT could play an important role in the administration of Target2Secrities, as well as helping to achieve its overall aim of “deeper integration of financial markets”.
Bullmann’s group is now exploring how DLT could be used in its new securities clearance platform T2S. Central securities depositories (CSDs) that participate in T2S today can effectively pool their securities so they can be bought and sold by investors across Europe. Since some technology would need to be selected in standardizing the issuance, Bullmann said DLT was a natural candidate for testing.

ECB – Bank of Japan joint initiative

The ECB has also launched a joint research project with the Bank of Japan in December last year to study the impact of new innovations of the global financial market and explore possible use of blockchain technology for market infrastructure services.
Bullmann’s task now is to coordinate with the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to explore topics such as how financial market participants could send payments using the technology, prioritizing how a certain payment might be cleared, for instance.

European Supervisory Authorities

The joint committee of the European Supervisory Authorities has released a report in April on Risks and Vulnerabilities in the EU Financial System, in which cybersecurity, including the rising use of blockchain technology, is marked as a major concern for the financial sector.

While further study is required before the EU submits new regulation regarding the financial sector and FinTech adoption, also the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has undertaken a study of cyber risk and controls of financial institutions throughout the EU. These results will be analyzed in light of existing regulations and used in making future recommendations. In June the ESMA publicized its response to the commission’s proposal on FinTech regulation following a public consultation.

ESMA and regulation

The ESMA, has stated in a new report that the current regulatory framework in effect does not pose a hurdle for the adoption and development of blockchain or distributed ledger technology in the short term. The report acknowledges the benefits of adopting blockchain before notably adding that blockchain applications are still at a nascent stage and, as such, do not require regulation. Regulatory action for blockchain technology at this ‘early stage’ is ‘premature’, said the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) in its report.

The ESMA states that it does not see blockchain technology, through its fundamental core concept of decentralization, post a threat to central financial market infrastructures. The ESMA deems it “unlikely” that blockchain technology would eliminate financial market infrastructures such as Central Securities Depositories (CSDs) and Central Counterparties (CCPs). Still, the watchdog says it “realizes” that blockchain technology may render some traditional processes redundant, or affect and “change the role of some intermediaries through time”

ESMA adds that the presence of blockchain technology “does not liberate users from complying with the existing regulatory framework, which provides important safeguards for the well-functioning of financial markets.” The ESMA will continue to monitor developments in the Fintech space, to assess if blockchain technology requires a regulatory response.

European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA)

The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) also entered into the blockchain debate with a report launched in December 2016 aimed to provide financial professionals in both business and technology roles with an assessment of the various benefits and challenges that their institutions may encounter when implementing a distributed ledger.
ENISA analysed the technology and identified security benefits, challenges and good practices. There are however new challenges that the technology brings, like consensus hijacking and smart contract management. Additionally, it highlights that public and private ledger implementations will face different sets of challenges.

ENISA has identified good practices to overcome the issues identified as well as introduce the key concepts that decision-makers should be aware of when approaching this technology. Some good practices are: using recovery keys; using multiple signatures for authorizing and processing transactions; and, using library of standardized smart contracts.

In this paper, they also identified that there are challenges that may require further development, such as: anti-money and anti-fraud tools; interoperability of blockchain protocols; and, legal provisions and tools for implementing privacy and the right to be forgotten.

You can read the full article by clicking on this link.


Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher