Open Standards and Interoperability – Two cheers for EU ICT ministers

The EU’s member states have just thrown their weight behind the principles of Open Standards and interoperability. At a meeting of the ministers for telecommunication and information society in Granada, Spain, the ministers of the 27 EU member states yesterday issued the Granada Ministerial Declaration on the European Digital Agenda [pdf].

This is not a legally binding document for the European Commission. But it’s a very strong directive from the member states to the European Commission.

Unlike some other documents we’ve seen from the European Commission lately, – such as the revised European Interoperability Framework (FSFE keeps track of the changes here)- this one has some very valuable things to say:

The European Union should:

[...]

  •  19. Respond to the Malmo Declaration on eGovernment [pdf] by developing more effective and efficient interoperable public services that emphasise open and transparent government and active participation, that promote the reuse of public sector information and thus potentially very important new user-driven service innovations, that increase the efficiency of government and lead to a measurable reduction in administrative burdens on citizens and businesses as well as contribute to a low-carbon economy.

The Malmo Declaration from November 18, 2009 urges public administrations to use Free Software and Open Standards for their eGovernment services. But the ministers also make it explicit that Open Standards and interoperability are the way to go for the European public sector in general, not just where eGovernment is concerned:

  • 21. Embed innovation and cost effectiveness into eGovernment through the systematic promotion of open standards and interoperable systems, development of EU wide e-authentication schemes and proactive development of e-invoicing, e-procurement (and pre-commercial procurement).

The link to the Digital Agenda that’s being prepared by the European Commission’s DG Information Society under Neelie Kroes could hardly be more explicit. This should give Kroes some badly needed backup in her struggle to keep Open Standards in the Digital Agenda, which is her policy roadmap for the next five years.

But wait, there’s more:

  • 27. Ensure that Internet Governance continues to evolve in line with the principles established in the Tunis Agenda4, such as transparency, multilateralism, democracy and the full involvement of all stakeholders; and that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) develops as an open place for meeting, policy dialogue and exchange of best practices between governments, civil society and the private sector.

FSFE is part of the IGF and has taken part in WSIS while it lasted. A lot of good work was done there, and we’re glad to see that the European member states value the principles of those fora.

Again, this is not the European Commission speaking, but the member states. The Commission itself has been sending mixed messages. In her parliamentary hearing, Neelie Kroes emphasised the importance of Open Standards. On the other hand, the department in charge of the Commission’s IT infrastructre, DIGIT, has been doing all it can to purge Open Standards (not to mention Free Software) from the revised European Interoperability Framework. There are also indications that Neelie Kroes is being pressured to remove references to Open Standards from theDigital Agenda policy paper which she is about to issue.

The European Union’s member states yesterday made some very sensible demands. The Commission should pay attention.