Clear answers demanded

Public transparency is an nice idea, as long as governments don’t ask their people to be fully transparent themselves in return. Since finding the limit between public (person, activity) and private is always difficult, caution is needed. Still, last week brought several examples of interesting uses of transparency policies, related to Free Software.


  • In Europe

On July 9, during the Juri Workshop in Brussels, someone from the public asked Giancarlo Vilella, Director of the DG ITEC (Innovation and Technological Support) of the European Parliament (EP), what was the proportion of Free and proprietary software in the European Parliament ICT system.

He gave a nice runaround answer, saying that -very likely, more than half of the EP’s system was running Free Software.

In two different letters, the Green/EFA, FSFE and Open Right Group followed up on this, asking the European Parliament to be more precise about their use of Free Software and about the implications of their transparency policy. When they come, the answers should give new arguments to Free Software activists in Europe.

On the European Commission’s side, several parliamentary questions were answered, detailing the concrete actions taken by the Commission to implement its policy regarding interoperability, Free Software and Open Standards.


  • In France

In France now, several ministries (Ministére de la ville – Ministry of cities, de l’agroalimentaire – of Agrifood, and du redressement productif – of “Productive Recovery”) published clear reports on their use of Free Software on July 16. They were answering a parliamentary question from MP Isabelle Attard (Green), demanding information related to the Ayrault circular‘s follow up.

A quick summary:

  • the ministries always “consider” Free Software during their procurement procedure
  • most of them are unable to give numbers, their book-keeping doesn’t separate spending on  Free and proprietary software. Spending on hardware with embedded software can also not be counted. The ministry of Agrifood (FR) is the only one showing clear numbers: for 2012 86k€ were spent on proprietary Office suite, 1828k€ on proprietary “infrastructure software” and 174k€ on Free Software
  • Free Software are mostly used in the server side. Office Suite and email clients are also often mentioned.
  • the only number the ministries of Finance and Economic Affairs (FR) can give is about their contribution to Free Software “ecosystem”, whatever they mean by this. One can hope that it means their contribution to Free Software projects: at least 22M euro, it would be nice… But I guess they are just counting spending on support / maintenance contracts -which is important too.
  • One minister (“city”) described an increasing internal expertise ability on software procurement and better collaboration with other ministries for the management of their ICT systems, implying interoperability. According to the document (FR), the ministry of “territorial equality and housing” and the ministry of “ecology, sustainable development and energy” are almost only using Free Software. Desktop computer’s operating system is the only proprietary part left. Those two ministers still spend 6 million euros per year on proprietary software
  • One association -Association of Free Software Developers and Users for administrations and local authorities, ADULLACT (FR)- is freeing some code developed in house and contributes to Free Software projects

French public bodies have terrible names..



Free Software to be used in priority by French schools?

French Free Software activists have been busy lately. An important bill on “Policy and planning for the rebuilding of the school of the Republic ” has been travelling back and forth between the National Assembly and the Senat. Its article 10 deals with e-learning. In paragraph 7, the version voted by the Senat (FR) and confirmed by the Cultural affairs and Education commission of the National Assembly reads that

“Such [e-learning] public service uses in priority Free Software and open document formats”.

The big drama happened on Monday and Tuesday. The bill came back to the National Assembly to be examined in plenary session.
The (socialist) government had tabled an amendment to weaken the provision (FR), yielding to proprietary software’s lobbies – according to April. Their main justification is the alleged incompatibility of the first wording with the EU competition law.

A bit of research quickly showed that the argument is flawed.

A very clear article by Carlo Piana analyses the 2010 ruling of the Italian Constitutional Court concerning this issue. Giving “more “weight” in public procurements to offers that provide Free Software and implement Open Standards” is not against competition: saying in the tender that the requested information system has to offer a set of rights (use, study, share, improve; randomly !) is completely legal. It doesn’t require a particular technical solution, nor a specific company’s offer, it just adds more general criteria to the tender specifications.

Unfortunately the government’s amendment was voted on Tuesday during the plenary session.

Interestingly enough, the French highest administrative court, le Conseil d’Etat, already took a close look at the issue concerning Free Software, public procurement and competition in 2010. The Picardie region had chosen a Free Software to equip local highschools and then issued a tender for the related implementation, maintenance and hosting services. The legality of this tender was attacked by two companies. The ruling states that since this Free Software was “acquired” for free (gratis), there was no need to issue a tender. As long as competition rules were respected for the service procurement, the region’s choices were legal.

Good to know that making Free Software the priority choice

  1. is already possible for public bodies
  2. can be added to the legislation without violating European rules

The Free Software movement has some good friends in our National Assembly, as the debates showed (FR). April is also doing a great job, providing a lot of legal and political analyses and background.

Since the National Assembly modified the draft, it has to go back to the Senate. Debates are not over (FR)!