Thursday, 17 July 2008

eGovernment in Europe - Draft version of EIF 2.0 available

Yesterday, on July 16, the European Commission* published the draft for the revised version of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), the EIF 2.0, with a 2 months period for submitting comments. The main objective of the EIF is to provide guidelines for pan-European eGovernment Services (PEGS) to the public sector in Europe.

The predecessor, EIF 1.0, is probably one of the best known documents of the European Commission. This is largely because it contains a definition of open standards which, among other characteristics, requires royalty-free licensing for patents included in standards. This raised a lot of uproar on the anti-open front with a large history of deliberate misinterpretations of the document. You could hear many who claimed that nobody in governments or public authorities would be allowed to use a cell phone or what other device if they followed the EIF open standards definition because all of these devices are built on standards that contain patents and require license fees. Such statements are, of course, a clearly overdone because they – deliberately – ignore that the purpose of the EIF has always been focused on eGovernment services, i.e. on business standards for offering services over the internet. They do not care about the device that's being used. The care about software interoperability.

I briefly read through the new draft document last night. I believe it looks extremely good. It is very readable and draws attention to the right topics: interoperability at all levels, avoid vendor-lock-in, facilitate efficient eGovernment services offering, supporting standardisation and innovation, and leveraging the benefits of open-source solutions on equal footing to proprietary product offerings.

Regarding the definition for open standards, the new document takes up the fact that there had been so many misinterpretations and provides a very clear scoping and contextualisation of the EIF. The document even concedes that “There are also areas where no real open standard or technical specifications are available or there may be other considerations that make it necessary to drop one or more of the characteristics described above.” But it makes also very clear that,

"It is up to the creator of the standard or technical specification to decide which kind of IPR regime he would like to associate with the standard or technical specification and it is up to the owners of technologies to decide if theyare willing to make their technology available under the proposed IPR regime."

Politically it is a very balanced and very wise document. It clearly addresses the needs of public authorities for developing and offering better eGovernment services. And it provides solid guidelines for realising eGovernment services. Moreover, it closely links with a parallel Commission initiative on a Common Assessment Method for Standards and Specifications (CAMSS).

This document and its underlying concepts have the potential to boost eGovernment services in Europe. That's its intention – and for the benefit of citizens across Europe it would deserve to achieve its goals.

(* This is under the responsibility of the EU Commission's IDABC programme. IDABC stands for Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens. For the full programme see the IDABC home page.)

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