Documents considered by the Committee on 12 September 2018 Contents

27High Performance Computing

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny

Document details

Proposal for a Council Regulation on establishing the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking.

Legal base

Article 187 and the first paragraph of Article 188 TFEU; consultation procedure; QMV.


Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Document Number

(39423), 5282/18, COM (18) 8 final

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

27.1As part of the ‘digitisation of industry’ pillar of its Digital Single Market Strategy, on 12 January 2018 the European Commission proposed a Council Regulation313 that will establish a public-private partnership to procure and deploy new High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure. The purpose of this infrastructure is set out in our previous report,314 but includes reduce Europe’s increasing reliance on infrastructure in other countries, as well as facilitating data-driven research that requires exascale computing capabilities (making a billion billion calculations per second).

27.2The Joint Undertaking (JU) will support the development of exascale performance systems by 2022–2023, and procure two HPC systems with pre-exascale performance in the meantime, as well as the deployment, interconnection and operation of these machines and manage access to them for a wide range of public and private users.

27.3In the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister (Sam Gyimah MP) indicated315 that, although thirteen countries had indicated their intention to participate, it had not yet formally signed-up to the project at this stage, and decisions on future UK participation will be made as more detailed plans become available. Although Membership is also open to those countries that are associated with EU Framework Programmes for research and innovation (e.g. Horizon 2020), the Minister acknowledged that the UK’s right to participate in the JU post-withdrawal was subject to EU exit negotiations.

27.4In its report on 2018 February 2018,316 the Committee sought an update on the Government’s intention to participate in the JU, and invited the Government to elaborate on UK activity in this area.

27.5In the Government’s response on 26 March 2018,317 the Minister provided an overview of the UK’s current capability and emphasised that, despite the EU’s data showing that the UK did not have one of the top ten computers worldwide, the UK had five systems in the top fifty, and that the UK’s strength in this sector was best reflected by its strong skills base in both high performance computing and the fundamental computer science skills needed to maximise the impact of supercomputers.

27.6The Minister stated that the Government had tasked UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to create a long-term (up to 2030) research and innovation infrastructure roadmap based on a picture of existing UK infrastructure, future requirements and resulting investment priorities, as part of which UKRI would examine the long term e-infrastructure capabilities required by researchers in the UK across disciplines and across sectors, which will “help us answer questions about what the UK can and should be delivering in terms of new HPC hardware.” In addition, a new e-infrastructure advisory board has been set up, consisting of experts from across industry, academia and the public sector, which will consider future UK membership of Euro-HPC. On the basis of this domestic work, the Minister concluded that there was not a high risk that through this initiative European industry might gain a significant advantage over UK industry. The Minister did not answer the Committee’s question as to whether the Government accepted the Commission’s view that no single European country had the resources to develop a full European High Performance Computing ecosystem alone.

27.7On 18 June 2018 the Minister wrote to inform the Committee that a vote on the proposal was to take place in COREPER on 20 June.318 The Minister said that, although the Government had still not decided whether to join Euro-HPC, it intended to support the proposal as it would enhance high-performance computing capabilities in Europe. However, he noted that “there is a small risk that in the final round of discussions, changes will be made to the text that restrict the right to vote in the governing body of the Joint Undertaking to EU Member States. This would clearly not be in the interests of the UK and is not a position that the Government could support.” In this scenario, he indicated that the Government was inclined to abstain.

27.8Officials subsequently provided the Committee with an informal update on the outcome of the meeting. At COREPER, the Presidency presented a compromise text on the proposed voting rules for activities on the research and innovation activities of the Joint Undertaking. This comprised a two-stage voting system for the first stage of which all Participating States (including non-Member-States) would hold 50% of the vote share, with the EU holding the other 50%. A majority constituted of both the EU votes and a 55% majority of the Participating States’ votes would be needed for the decision to pass. Failing that, the vote would move to a second stage, at which only Member States (and the EU) would have voting rights, which would follow a Qualified Majority Voting approach. The UK supported the proposal along with 23 other Member States but intervened to note that the Parliamentary Scrutiny Reserve continued to apply. The UK subsequently abstained at Environment Council on 25 June, at which a General Approach including this text was adopted.

27.9The European Parliament has already voted in favour of the file, so the next and final stage for the file is at the end of September when the Council will formally adopt the Regulation. Final adoption is likely to take place on 27 September.

27.10The Government has still not decided whether to participate in Euro-HPC. The decision will be based on the programme of work, led by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) set out by the Minister in previous correspondence.

27.11We have taken note of the Minister’s updates, and the General Approach agreed by the Environment Council on 25 June. The UK’s concerns about proposed changes to the voting system—which would have restricted the right to vote in the governing body to EU Member States—have been satisfactorily addressed. As the European Parliament has voted in favour of the file, the Council will formally adopt the Regulation on 27 September 2018.

27.12As UK concerns have been addressed, we now clear this proposal from scrutiny. However, as we consider the UK’s approach to High Performance Computing to be of some importance with respect to the UK’s wider industrial strategy, we ask the Government to update the Committee in due course when a decision on UK participation in Euro-HPC is made, and to supply the Committee with an overview of the grounds for its decision.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Council Regulation on establishing the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking: (39423), 5282/18, COM (18) 8 final.

Previous Committee Reports

Sixteenth report HC 301–xvi (2017—19) chapter 2 (28 February 2018).

313 Proposal for a Council Regulation on establishing the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking COM(2018) 8 final.

314 Sixteenth report HC 301–xvi (2017—19) chapter 2 (28 February 2018).

315 The Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum (published on 29 January 2018) is not yet available online, but the Department for Exiting the European Union should make it available soon on the relevant European Memoranda web-page.

316 Sixteenth report HC 301–xvi (2017—19) chapter 2 (28 February 2018).

317 Letter from the Minister to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee (26 March 2018).

318 Letter from the Minister to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee (18 June 2018).

Published: 18 September 2018