A response from my MEP about EIF2

A couple of weeks ago I wrote the following to my MEPs using the excellent www.writetothem.com

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Dear Marta Andreasen, Nigel Farage, Catherine Bearder, Sharon Bowles, Peter Skinner, Caroline Lucas and Nirj Deva,

I am very concerned about the progress of the European Interoperability Framework version 2. This document seeks to encourage openness and interoperability between IT systems of member bodies and the legal and policy frameworks above.

A first draft was published http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7728 and comments were solicited http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7732.

Having read the first draft and the comments I am at a loss as to how the leaked second draft http://www.bigwobber.nl/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/European-Interoperability-Framework-for-European-Public-Services-draft.pdf came about. Most of the document has been ripped out and that which remains has been watered down to the point of being meaningless. I have some specific examples I would like to share with you:

1) The last paragraph on page 23

“Therefore, technical interoperability should be ensured, whenever possible, via the use of either standards endorsed by recognised standardisation organisations or technical specifications made available by industry consortia or other
standardisation fora.”

This should have the words “whenever possible” struck out. I can think of no situation where it would not be possible to publish a technical specification, although it might be possible to relax the definition of “industry consortia or other standardisation fora” – as long as the specification is published and freely implementable (and is accurate) then I don’t think it is essential to be published by a consortia.

2) The paragraph on page 25 at the end of 5.2.1

“However, public administrations may decide to use less open specifications, especially in cases where open specifications do not meet the functional interoperability needs or the ones available are not mature and/or sufficiently supported by the market, or where all cooperating organisations already use or agree to use the same technologies.”

This is a recipe for lock-in and the exact situation the EIF is supposed to counter. If there is a single vendor providing the technology then the specification needs to be *more* open not less open. This means if a vendor has a monopoly position, they are allowed to defend this monopoly by having a less open specification so that other products find it harder to interoperate. If all cooperating organisation already use or agree to use the same technologies *now* they should be specifying open standards for interoperability such that in the future if one or more cooperating organisation decides to change their technology they are free to do so.

I would really like to know which public comment or behind the scenes lobbying motivated the insertion of this paragraph.

It might be possible to split this into two paragraphs, one permitting “less open specifications” where there is evidence that a wide range of implementations exist including open source implementations, and one permitting all cooperating organisations to use the same technologies where there is a “more open specification” that is freely implementable.

3) the last paragraph of 2.10 on page 11 is also a concern, pretty much the same as the one in 5.2.1

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.

This could be fixed by adding a sentence warning of the danger that a homogeneous ICT environment coupled with a lack of open standards for interoperability leads to partners being locked in to that environment – which is what EIF seeks to prevent.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Bell

and yesterday I got the following reply from the office of Caroline Lucas

Dear Alan,

Thank you for your recent email, which Caroline has asked me to respond to on her behalf.

Greens have long campaigned to protect free and open source software, including heading off proposed legislation to introduce software patents. We are opposed to patenting on a number of grounds including:

· the threat to small business and the open source community
· that innovation will be stifled
· unnatural corporate influence

The impact on consumers is also important to Caroline and the Greens and we argue that patents help lock in technology, in the way you describe, thereby encouraging monopolies and discouraging interoperability. So, we want to guarantee that any EU legislation on interoperability genuinely does open up IT, rather than close it down and concentrate control in the hands of a few corporations.

The European Interoperability Framework version 2 is designed to help overcome interoperability problems and in principle is something that Green MEPs would support. However, Caroline takes your point that the wording of the leaked draft is certainly not as strong as it might be. Please be assured that when the proposed framework comes before MEPs, she and her Green colleagues in the Parliament will be working hard to press for legislation that delivers full interoperability and to oppose the standards being watered down by powerful players in the IT industry. The European Commission does have a track record of standing up to companies like Microsoft, so Caroline is hopeful that on this issue its final proposals will be strong.

Thank you for getting in touch and for alerting Caroline to your concerns. If you need any further information please do let me know. You might also be interested in reading about Caroline’s work on a range of issues at www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk

Kind regards,

Cath.

Cath Miller
Constituency Coordinator and Researcher
Office of Dr Caroline Lucas
Green Party MEP for SE England

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3 Comments

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  • Alan Bell says:

    just had another reply:

    Dear Mr Bell,

    Thank you for writing to Sharon Bowles MEP regarding the second draft of
    the European Interoperability Framework.

    Although Sharon’s committee will not be dealing with this package
    directly, I have passed on your concerns to her so that she can bear
    them in mind should this come to a vote in the Parliament.

    Thank you once again for contacting Sharon.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ashley Dorrington
    Constituency Assistant

    Office of Sharon Bowles MEP, Liberal Democrat
    Chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee
    Member of the European Parliament for South East England

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