A member of the European Parliament (MEP) has put pressure on the European Commission to make known its plans to regulate the metaverse after interventions from commissioners such as Thierry Breton.
“We will continue looking at new digital opportunities and trends, such as the metaverse,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in her annual State of the Union address a few weeks ago.
The so-called metaverse is the idea of a virtual world, facilitated by virtual reality and augmented reality headsets. It has garnered increased momentum and excitement since Facebook rebranded as Meta last year, saying that it wants to move beyond 2D and allow users to “escape” in the virtual world.
Studies anticipate that, by 2026, 25 percent of people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse, while its economic impact is projected to reach €5trn by 2030.
It may be for this reason that the EU’s political class are becoming increasingly vocal about how best the phenomenon could be approached.
The market is already beginning to pay closer attention. Visa first entered the metaverse in 2021 and spent $150,000 purchasing a non-fungible token (NFT) called CryptoPunk 7610.
In April, Mastercard filed 15 NFTs and metaverse trademark applications as part of a wide-ranging plan to extend its payment processing system, slogans and branding into the new virtual economy.
And in June, the international card scheme unveiled a "Pride Plaza" in the metaverse through a partnership with decentralised platform Decentraland.
“While still difficult to define, the Metaverse is becoming a virtual world with the capacity to revolutionise most aspects of our lives and provide a constantly expanding and immersive three-dimensional online experience,” said Eva Kaili, a Greek MEP, in her question to the commission.
Despite its unpredictable nature and potentially skyrocketing value, the metaverse is likely to transform many fields and sectors, including healthcare, education, the workspace, gaming and much more, the MEP, who sits with the Parliament’s centre-left faction, said.
According to Kaili, there is an urgent need for the EU’s institutions to “innovate our policies in the fields and sectors in which the Metaverse can have a significant impact”, considering the metaverse’s transformative powers.
With this, she has requested the commission report on its progress in understanding how it can regulate the metaverse and which actions need to be prioritised. She also wants the commission to assess the impact that the metaverse will have on competition, cybersecurity and privacy rights, and to outline plans to publish this impact assessment.
Kaili’s intervention is unsurprising. The commission’s political appointees have been hinting that they are getting ready to act for some time.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s antitrust chief, said in February that the commission is analysing the metaverse ahead of possible regulatory intervention.
Meanwhile, this month, the internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, wrote a blog assessing the EU’s role in the metaverse.
Here, he spoke about issues including new payment systems and the strain that this will put on infrastructure.
“In the new virtual spaces, the amount of data being exchanged — and harvested — through these technologies will be of greater magnitude than ever,” he said.
The new virtual worlds will put even more intense pressure on the connectivity infrastructure which is needed to allow all these developments to happen, he said, referring to NFTs and crypto-assets.
“Our European way to foster the virtual worlds is threefold: people, technologies and infrastructure,” he wrote.
For Breton, regulatory tools such as the flagship bigtech regulations, the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act, will be applicable to the metaverse.
“We will not witness a new Wild West or new private monopolies,” he said. “We intend to shape from the outset the development of truly safe and thriving metaverses.”
“We are ready to roll out our European ambition,” he ended his statement.
The EU is not alone in wanting in on the virtual world. In August, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) unveiled the Dubai Metaverse Strategy.
According to the UAE government, the strategy aims to build on Dubai’s achievement of attracting more than 1,000 companies in the fields of blockchain and metaverse. It also promotes Dubai’s ambitions to support more than 40,000 virtual jobs by 2030.