Back on the block and worse than ever: EIFv2

The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) is back from the dark corners of the European Commission, and it’s worse than ever.

This is a key document, helping public bodies across Europe to make their IT systems work together. The EC originally issued this as a recommendation in 2004. This original EIF put a lot of emphasis on Open Standards and Free Software. Now FSFE has seen the latest draft of the document, which still has not been published.

The European Commission started updating the EIF in 2006, and called for public comments in the summer of 2008. Then, the document was still very strong on Open Standards, and gave clear directions to the European member states that wanted their public sector IT to be more efficient and vendor-independent.

Until the  Business Software Alliance (BSA) got its hands on it.

The Business Software Alliance is a lobby group of proprietary software vendors, backed above all by Microsoft. FSFE has prepared an overview page showing how the BSA’s demands are reflected in the latest draft of EIFv2.

EIFv2 should have been released in late 2008, after the comments from the general public had been integrated.Instead, the EC’s Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT) apparently dragged it into a dark basement and beat it up beyond recognition. We can only speculate that the BSA was at least holding the flashlight during the process.

In November 2009, a draft of the revision finally leaked on the Internet. A relatively strong definition of Open Standards had been replaced by meaningless waffling about an “openness continuum”. Our overview page shows how closely the BSA’s language and concepts are mirrored in the document we’re looking at now. Massive protests from groups like FSFE, both in public and in private, lead six European countries to reject the text.

Just a few days ago, we received a reworked draft of EIFv2. We were cautiously optimistic: after all, we had pointed out very clearly in November what we thought was wrong with the document. And a number of Member States had made it clear that they were not going to accept the document in this form.

That’s why we’re surprised and disappointed to see that very little has changed. The EC has removed the most blatant formulations such as the “openness continuum”. But there still is no definition of Open Standards in the document. Free Software, formerly prominent as a tool to achieve interoperability in the public sector, has been relegated to a single footnote. The elimination of Free Software from the document could not have been more systematic.

While the document still isn’t publicly available, we have updated our comparison page with the key parts.

The document is still just as bad as the version from last November. This is not only disrespectful of the Member States that rejected the text in November. It also means that the EC is giving away Europe’s international leadership in Open Standards. The original EIF was used by countries such as Japan, South Africa and Egypt to set up their own national rules on interoperability.

In its current state, EIFv2 would do only one thing: Cement the vendor lock-in and network effects that are keeping too many public bodies from migrating to Free Software and Open Standards. FSFE is not the only group with serious concerns about the text. Open Forum Europe has written a strongly worded letter (.pdf) to Member States and the European Commission, calling for the document to be rejected.

Should EIFv2 be adopted in its current form, most citizens will continue to be forced to use proprietary file formats to communicate with their authorities. It will also mean the loss of countless contracts for European small and medium enterprises, with less jobs in Europe as a result.

It’s ironic that this comes so close to Document Freedom Day on March 31, an international day of awareness for Open Standards and open document formats.

The EC’s DG DIGIT has shown that it is unwilling or unable to make the current version of EIFv2 a worthy follow-up to the original EIF from 2004. The current text is beyond repair. Other DGs of the EC should intervene and simply throw the text into the dustbin, take the consultation draft from the summer of 2008, and start again from there.

Europeans and their public authorities would thank the EC for such a decision. If the Commission doesn’t summon that courage on its own, Member States should stand up for the interests of their citizens with a clear “No” to this sham.

What can you do?

You don’t have stand by and let this happen. If you want to take action, your best bet is to write to your national government’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) – most or all EU member states have such an official. If you can’t identify that functionary for your country, please ask in the comments. They’re the ones who will soon (and no, we currently don’t know when) vote on the new text of EIFv2.

Write them an email or letter, or call their office. Be polite, and be prepared. You can argue that

  • with the new text, the European Commission is giving up leadership its international leadership on interoperability. Countries around the world will no longer see the European Union as the world’s leading region on Open Standards.
  • The new text provides hardly any guidance for public bodies in Member States. Where over the last years Member States could look forward to Open Standards making their public sector IT systems work together across borders, the new text will simply lead to Member States each going their own way.
  • Point your CIO to FSFE’s comparison page, and let them know that you’re concerned about the way in which the EC’s DG DIGIT has included the BSA’s position, while neglecting the views of supporters of Free Software and Open Standards. There was a marked lack of transparency in the process.
  • The current revision is only marginally changed from the draft which Member States rejected in November / December 2009. The European Commission’s DG DIGIT has changed some words, but has not revised the concept. This means that it hasn’t respected the concerns of  Member States.
  • Let your government CIO know that March 31 is Document Freedom Day, an international day for Open Standards and open document formats. This shows that there is substantial public attention to the topic, and citizens will hold their governments to account.
  • For all these reasons, ask your government’s CIO to vote “no” on the current draft.

Again: Please be prepared, and be polite. Let us know how it went in the comments!