Whatever Happened to the EU Interoperability Policy?

As readers of this blog will know, interoperability is a key issue in Europe at the moment. We are still waiting for the imminent version 2 of the European Interoperability Framework, where we will find out whether true restriction-free open standards will be recommended, on deeply-flawed ones based on FRAND licensing that for practical purposes exclude many free software projects.

Unfortunately, the following news from the FSFE does not bode well for that forthcoming announcement:

The European Commission will spend EUR 189 million on proprietary software over the next six years, in direct contradiction to its own decisions and guidelines. The Commission last week announced a six-year framework contract to acquire a wide range of mostly proprietary software and related services.

As the FSFE notes:

Last week's contract goes against the stated intentions of several Commission documents. European procurement rules say that public sector buying practices should "avoid discrimination and open up public procurement to competition."

The Digital Agenda, published in May 2010, calls for "ICT products and services" to be "open and interoperable". A guideline issued by the EC's OSOR project cites European procurement rules to say that "calls for tender [...] should be based on functional requirements, not on specific products or vendors", while last week's contract comes with a long list of specific products which the Commission wants to buy.

In the Malmö and Granada declarations of 2009 and 2010, the European Union's member states called on the EC to "pay particular attention to the benefits resulting from the use of open specifications in order to deliver services in the most cost-effective manner", and to "[e]mbed innovation and cost effectiveness into eGovernment through the systematic promotion of open standards and interoperable systems".


The procurement process was conducted by the Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT). This department is also leading the process to revise the European Interoperability Framework.

Aside from the fact that open source doesn't seem to have been given a fair chance in this procurement process, there is also the matter of transparency. As far as I can tell, there are precious few details available about what exactly is in this 189 million Euro mega-contract. At a time when governments across the world are rightly beginning to open up all stages of procurement for public scrutiny, the EU's old-fashioned "trust us, you little people don't need to know the details" attitude is not just outdated and misguided, but positively insulting. After all, we are not only paying for all this proprietary software, but also footing the bill for the not inconsiderable salaries enjoyed by members of the European Commission.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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