I was very pleased yesterday to get another response to add to my collection in relation to my letter to my MEPs about the European Interoperability Framework. Now if you missed the fuss in the first place the interoperability framework is a document outlining an EU approach to software that avoids being locked in to particular suppliers, promotes free choice of member states, and protects tax payers from being ripped off by predatory monopolistic practices. Good stuff in other words. It had a few rough edges so EIF 2 was proposed. A draft was written, and public comments from interested parties were submitted. Microsoft and the BSA (which has been accused of being a Microsoft sock puppet at times) were perhaps the most critical, but their comments were generally welcoming and constructive, the BSA in particular pointed to some areas where the proposed EIF2 went impractically far on issues relating to patents. I was, in short, totally fine with these public comments. Some time later a second draft was leaked and this did cause concern. It was nothing like the first draft and after careful reading of every submitted comment I could not see how you could start at the first draft, and by implementing the public comments arrive anywhere near the second. The original letter has a few more details of specific problems, but here is what my Conservative MEP has to say on the matter. (Responses from Conservative, Green and Lib-Dem so far)
Dear Mr Bell,
Thank you for your letter.
I was both concerned and delighted to read your comments. Concerned as to
the matter you highlight, yet delighted to see someone taking such an active
role scrutinising legislation; it is to your credit that you take such an
undertaking upon yourself.
With regard to the’ European Interoperability Framework version 2′ it is my
understanding that although it remains in the drafting stage (the current
version of the draft and more information are available from
http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7728) it will be submitted to the
European Parliament and Council soon. When it is presented to the
parliament I will do my best to raise the issues you highlight with the
relevant members and ensure that the specific points you raise are
However, as you are no doubt aware that most of this process is highly
secretive. It is sadly endemic of the EU legislative procedure that it is
formulated and discussed behind closed doors, with deals and compromises
made in circumstances that are often totally unaccountable. You can rest
assured that I share your frustrations with this and will do all I can over
the course of my time as an MEP (as I have until now) to change this.
I am happy to tell you that we are making progress. For the first time
there is an opposition to the existing way of doing business in Brussels.
My Conservative colleagues and our allies in the European Conservative and
Reformist Grouping are doing all we can make the EU accountable and to
expose the process to the full light of public scrutiny. Free to ask the
awkward questions we are fighting to ensure that when laws are passed they
represent the best possible, rather than the just the least bad choice.
I will of course keep you up to date with any and all developments. In the
meantime if I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to
Nirj Deva MEP
If you are wondering who Nirj Deva is then take a look at this:
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.
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
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.
and yesterday I got the following reply from the office of Caroline Lucas
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
Constituency Coordinator and Researcher
Office of Dr Caroline Lucas
Green Party MEP for SE England