Brussels launches campaign for open data

datas_centres.jpg

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.

Commission's limits

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).

"Data is gold. We have a gold mine in public administrations. Let’s start mine it,” said EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said during a press conference in Brussels.

“We are sending a strong signal to administrations today. Your data is worth more if you give it away. So start releasing it now: use this framework to join the other smart leaders who are already gaining from embracing open data,” she added in a note.

"How can citizens do that if the way we work and who does what within all of the different institutions, agencies, offices and bodies remains a well-kept secret, open only to those who know? If the plenary backs this progressive approach with a strong majority, we will enter the fight with the Council in a very convincing position”, said Michael Cashman, a British MEP from the Socialists & Democrats group sitting on the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee.

Public data is all the information that public bodies in the European Union produce, collect or pay for. This could include geographical data, statistics, meteorological information, data from publicly funded research projects, and digitised books from libraries.

The 2009 Digital Britain Report described data as ‘innovation currency’ and ‘the lifeblood of the knowledge economy’. A large part of this innovation currency is produced, collected or paid for by governments across the EU.

Current rules are based on a directive adopted in 2003, which provides vague indications to member states on how to favour access and re-use of public data. 

  • 14 Dec 2011: European Parliament votes resolution on open data
  • 2013: Likely entry into force of revised directive on open data

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.