The European Commission proposed yesterday (12 December) to open up the access and the re-use of public documents in the EU in order to make information held by public administrations more readily available and to spur economic growth.
By softening rules and procedures for re-use public data, the EU executive hopes to generate a yearly €40 billion windfall for the European economy through the spread of innovative applications.
Some sectors are expected to considerably gain from easier access to public documents and more flexible rules on how to use them for commercial aims.
Location-based services, car navigation systems or weather forecasts are among the ideal beneficiaries of the new approach. The German market for geo-information, for instance, marked a 50% increase between 2000 and 2007, up to €1.4 billion, after a review of the rules on open data.
Public administrations stand to gain, too, from a more liberal approach to open data.
The Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority (DECA), for example, saw the number of re-users of its data rising 10,000% over eight years, since it made its documents free and more accessible.
DECA’s strategy paid also in terms of financial gains since the additional tax revenue for the government is estimated to be four times the amount it would have gained from fees.
Will member states follow?
The Commission announced yesterday that it would facilitate access to its data as from 2012 by making information such as written documents, electronic files and statistics available in a single portal.
Brussels is also proposing to make access and re-use of public documents a general rule for all public bodies, unless specific exemptions can be raised. The proposal on open data does not apply to information protected by privacy and copyright rules.
But the EU executive's clout in the field is limited by national implementation of rules. Member states are indeed free to apply their own legislation and they can only be exhorted to harmonise their rules with other countries.
“We propose to harmonise the way member states make their data reusable,” the EU commissioner in charge of the dossier, Neelie Kroes, told a news conference in Brussels. But apart from improving the exchange of best practices, the Commission cannot do much more.
Kroes’ power is so limited that even other EU institutions could go their own way. “The Commission invites the European Parliament and the Council, within their respective responsibilities, to create the right framework conditions for the re-use of public-sector information across the European Union,” reads the strategy on open data published by the EU executive.
On the other hand, some member states, like France or the UK, anticipated the Commission intervention and have been already applying an open-data approach.
No mention of classified documents
Kroes’ document does not address the issue of classified documents, although the European Parliament has taken a clear line on the subject with a draft resolution overwhelmingly approved by the Civil Liberties Committee at the end of November.
The committee proposed a new categorisation of classified documents: ‘EU top secret’, ‘EU secret’, ‘EU confidential’ and ‘EU restricted’.
MEPs also underlined that “an institution could classify a document only where its disclosure would undermine the protection of the essential interests of the EU or of one or more of the member states, notably in public security, defence and military matters,” reads a note issued by the Parliament in November.
However, the Commission proposals do not deal with this issue. The plenary session of the European Parliament will vote on the draft resolution tomorrow (14 December).