Open Standards, Open Source , European Interoperability and the EU Digital Agenda
An open letter to Commissioners Alumnia, Barnier, Tajani and Kroes (from Jeremy Bennett)
The draft proposals for the new EU Digital Agenda1 indicate a strong commitment to the
principles of open standards. This is underlined in section 2.6, which proposes six key
“Issue a Recommendation to streamline the use of open standards in public services and public procurement”;
“Promote the development of open standards for new applications and services by supporting industry-led platforms through EU-funded programmes”.
This is excellent news, which puts into practice a commitment of the EU dating back to the
European Interoperability Framework (EIF)2 published in 2004. This was written following
an action plan adopted by EU heads of state in 2002 which included a mandate backing
open standards and open source software. This is reflected in the EIF, where section 1.3
“To attain interoperability in the context of pan-European eGovernment services, guidance needs to focus on open standards. The following are the minimal characteristics that a specification and its attendant documents must have in order to be considered an open standard:
The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit organisation, and its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties (consensus or majority decision etc.).
The standard has been published and the standard specification document is available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee.
The intellectual property – i.e. patents possibly present – of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis. There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.”
The EIF also identified Open Source Software (OSS) as central to promoting the development
of interoperability standards. Further on in section 1.3, there is explicit recognition of the
value of open source software:
“Open Source Software (OSS) tends to use and help define open standards and publicly available specifications. OSS products are, by their nature, publicly available specifications, and the availability of their source code promotes open, democratic debate around the specifications, making them both more robust and interoperable. As such, OSS corresponds to the objectives of this Framework and should be assessed and considered favourably alongside proprietary alternatives”
This document showed that the European Commission understood back in 2004, the
importance of open standards, and the use of an open source approach when developing
I am very concerned that the draft of the new European Interoperability Framework for
Public Services3 has completely redefined what is meant by Open Source Software, to
include closed source software:
“There are varying degrees of openness. Specifications, software and software development methods that promote collaboration and the results of which can freely be accessed, reused and shared are considered open and lie at one end of the spectrum while non-documented, proprietary specifications, proprietary software and the reluctance or resistance to reuse solutions, i.e. the “not invented here” syndrome, lie at the other end.
The spectrum of approaches that lies between these two extremes can be called the openness continuum.”
This is completely meaningless. I may as well say that “dry” is one end of a spectrum which
includes “wet”. Furthermore, the original mandate backing open source software is
“European public administrations need to decide where they wish to position themselves on this continuum with respect to the issues discussed in the EIF. The exact position may vary, on a case-by- case basis, depending on their needs, priorities, legacy, budget, market situation and a number of other factors. While there is a correlation between openness and interoperability, it is also true that interoperability can be obtained without openness, for example via homogeneity of the ICT systems, which implies that all partners use, or agree to use, the same solution to implement a European Public Service. ”
The European Commission is not the first organization to fall for this “redefinition”, which
has sadly been promoted by a number of international corporations desperate to protect
their existing closed source business using any market distorting techniques they can
It is the duty of regulatory bodies to resist such activity in the interest of promoting a free
and fair market. There should be no doubt about what is meant by Open Source Software.
The Open Source Definition4 has been widely accepted for over a decade as an unambiguous
statement of what comprises open source software.
The effect of this novel rewriting of the meaning of Open Source Software can be seen in the
draft European Interoperability Strategy (EIS)5. This implements the Framework for public
services yet has no meaningful commitment to open standards or open source. Where is the
grand vision of the Interoperability Framework of 2004?
Following on from this, I am alarmed at media6 reports that, under pressure from developers
of closed software, such as Microsoft, the European Commission is now considering
removing the commitment to open standards from the EU Digital Agenda.
We have only to consider the development of the Linux operating system, developed by a
Finish university student, to see how important open standards and open source are in
Open standards and open source make for a highly competitive market, since they maximize
contributions from all developers. This in turn reduce the costs of businesses using such
software, improving their competitiveness. A 2008 survey by the Standish group suggested
open source had saved companies 60 billion dollars in costs.
Yet it is also possible to make very good profits from open source development, as successful
companies like Red Hat and IBM demonstrate. The resistance is from other corporations
who have grown up with the old way of closed standards and closed source. They will fight
tooth and nail to protect their profits, against newer, better ways of doing things, even if it is
to the detriment of ordinary consumers.
History shows us such resistance always fails eventually?—otherwise we would still be
ploughing fields with horses and spinning wool by hand. The only effect of such delaying
tactics is inefficiency in the market, to the detriment of consumers, until the old ways finally
fail. It is incumbent on regulatory bodies to minimize this inefficiency by facilitating the
\adoption of new methods and technology.
I work in open source development. With my German colleague we develop open source
tools for silicon chip and embedded software development. This technology, developed in
Europe, helps companies around the world reduce the cost of developing new silicon chips.
It would be terrible news for us if the Commission were to remove or even water down their
excellent commitment to open standards. We would like to see an explicit commitment now
added to open source as the most efficient way of achieving open standards. In this way, the
European Commission could add valuable impetus to European companies working in this
growing business sector.
My requests to you are:
• that the European Commission reinstate the commitment to open standards and open
source in the new European Interoperability Framework for Public Services, in line
with the original European Interoperability Framework of 2004 and the mandate from
Heads of State in 2002;
• that you refuse to contemplate any removal or watering down, and that you will stand
behind the excellent text in section 2.6 of the Draft EU Digital Agenda.
• that you add a commitment in the EU Digital Agenda to the use of open source
software as central to Europe’s competitiveness;
I look forward to hearing your response to my requests.
31 march 2010
Joaquín Almunia is European Commissioner for Competition and also a Vice President of the Commission.
Michel Barnie is European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services.
Antonio Tajani is European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry.
Neelie Kroes is European Commissioner with responsibility for the Digital agenda and also a Vice President of the Commission.
Dr Jeremy Bennett is Chief Executive of Embecosm Limited. Embecosm
Contact him at [email protected]