European Court of Auditors: Commission failed to effectively coordinate boost in AI investment


The European Commission did not effectively coordinate a planned increase in AI investments to match global leaders between 2018 and 2022, according to a report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) published on May 29.

In 2018, the Commission identified AI as “one of the most strategic technologies of the 21st century” and launched an initiative to boost investments in AI and enhance its adoption in both private and public sectors. It introduced two plans to close the investment gap with global competitors, one in 2018 and another in 2021. Despite these efforts, the investment gap between the US and the EU had doubled by 2020, as noted in a 2022 report by the Commission’s Joint Research Center.

The gap has since widened further. In 2023, private investment in AI in the US reached €62.5 billion, which was seven times more than the combined €9 billion from the EU and UK, according to a March 2024 report by the European Parliament that cited Stanford University data. Stanford reported a 44% decline in private AI investment in the EU from 2022 to 2023.

The ECA interviewed officials from the Commission and the European Investment Fund, along with 23 national authorities from member states, including 20 responsible for AI policy implementation. They also reviewed Commission documents and examined 10 AI projects funded by Horizon 2020, the EU’s primary science research initiative.

The ECA found that the Commission’s targets were vague and lacked clear research priorities or specific goals for member states to guide investments. Additionally, these targets were not updated as the investment gap with the US increased.

The report also criticized the ineffective coordination with national authorities, noting that only one expert group per member state was tasked with coordinating plans. The Commission also failed to comprehensively review the implementation of the 2018 and 2021 AI plans in member states as initially intended.

In response, a Commission official stated that several steps had been taken, including active engagement in implementing the AI Act and setting up the AI Office. The official highlighted new measures to boost AI investment, such as an innovation package announced in January 2024, aimed at generating an additional €4 billion in public and private investment in generative AI by 2027.

Following Ursula von der Leyen’s 2023 State of the Union speech, the Commission has made Europe’s supercomputers available to innovative AI startups for training trustworthy AI models. Horizon and Digital Europe invest €1 billion annually in AI research, and the Commission aims to attract over €20 billion in annual AI investment in the EU over the next decade.

The Commission plans to invest €2.1 billion in AI between 2021 and 2027 under the Digital Europe programme.

Looking ahead, the ECA recommends strengthening the planning of investment goals for the EU and member states and establishing a monitoring framework to assess progress. Implementing regulations such as the Data Governance Act and the AI Act, which set rules for a single data market and govern AI use based on risk, are also crucial, according to the ECA.