Latest EU steps in the field of scientific publishing ‘too little, too late’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

EU ministers’ agreement on scientific information in the digital age reached at the Competitiveness Council meeting in Brussels on 23 November comes too late and does not constitute any progress, writes the Slovenian Minister for growth, Žiga Turk, on Blogactiv.

The main problem in this area is that the publisher has lost importance in contributing to the scientific publishing process, Minister Turk states. 

“The research is funded by the governments or the industry, performed by the researchers, papers are written and reviewed by them for free, and only at the very end a publisher comes along that takes over the copyright, publishes the work and sells the journal at great expense to the community that created and edited the content for free”, the Slovenian minister notes. 

Referring to the latest ministerial meeting, Turk says “it is good to see the Council take an interest in open access publishing”, but adds that the document stops short of bringing real improvements in terms of open access to software, open standards and freely available scientific articles on the subject. 

These steps have played an important role in the “explosion” of web-based technologies in the US and are vital for moving Europe towards a knowledge-based economy, according to the minister. 

The Council document “invites member states to systematically assess conditions that affect access to scientific information”, including: 

  • The way in which researchers exercise their copyright on scientific articles; 
  • the level of investments in the dissemination of scientific information as compared to total investments in research; and; 
  • the use of financial mechanisms to improve access, such as refunding VAT for digital journal subscriptions to libraries.

While the minister considers the first two proposals to be useful, he thinks that lifting VAT for digital journals sends out the “wrong message”. 

“If we mean open access, if we mean free, there is no VAT. Refunding VAT means simply subsidising commercial publishers”, Minister Turk says. 

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