A vivid debate is currently ongoing about the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). After the publication of the public draft for EIF 2.0 in summer 2008 and the public consultation on it (which ended in September 2008), a new draft leaked to the public end of last week.
The public reaction to the new draft is entirely negative complaining about the move away from a clear commitment to openness and outlining the risks of such a change:
“[...] if the real version 2 of the European Interoperability Framework is anything like the one discussed above, with its pathetically devalued definition of openness [...] it will represent a huge setback for the use of free software in Europe, and a major boost for closed-source software producers and the patents they all-too often claim there [...].”
Similarly, the German IT news channel Spiegelonline Netzwelt Ticker states on Nov 3:
“Wo früher klar für mehr Offenheit plädiert wurde, steht jetzt eine schwammige philosophische Abhandlung über das, was Offenheit sein soll - im Grunde ein schönes Gefühl. Es gebe ein Offenheits-Kontinuum, auch Closed-Source-Software könne als "Open" betrachtet werden.”
“Open source associations have criticised the fact that the draft of a planned amendment to the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) [...] includes patented and proprietary solutions in an 'openness continuum'. They are concerned that this could significantly restrict the usability of open source software in public administration. [...] Until now, the EIF has required that standards be developed by non-commercial organisations and published either free of charge or for a nominal fee. IP rights, in particular patent rights, which impact a standard must also be made " irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis." This is important for ensuring that standards can be implemented in both proprietary and open source software without being restricted by commercial property rights.”
For the OpenForum Europe, Graham Taylor, the organisation's CEO, pointed out that
"The EU is at risk to lose its global leadership position on openness and interoperability. The Commission's reputation will be seriously damaged if EIF 2.0 is released in the way it is currently worded. [..] The drastic changes from the consultation document of 2008 to this document cannot be seen as resulting from the comments submitted through the public consultation [...].”
Perhaps this open, public and citizen-driven debate with the clear reactions against any move away from openness can help - to use some IT jargon - that bugs in the proposed new “EIF code” can be singled out before EIF 2.0 goes live.
As mentioned in my last blog on the importance of openness for an Innovation Society, I believe that EIF 1.0 needs an “innovation step” rather than a revision. Essentially, to me this means:
- Build on the wide success and broad adoption of EIF 1.0 including its clear commitment to openness;
- Develop it further, e.g. by covering new levels relevant for the realisation of pan-European eGovernment Services (PEGS) interoperability and by updating recommendations on architecture and infrastructure reflecting new market developments.
Regarding the latter, in fact, the new “leaked” draft for the EIF 2.0 does reflect some of these innovative updates. For instance, it extends the scope of interoperability to new, important levels like legal and organisational interoperability and it reflects service orientation as the central underlying architectural paradigm for modern eGovernment IT infrastructures.
Regarding the first, I would agree with those who are asking for a strong stance on openness and a reconfirmation of the principles that are included in EIF 1.0. Requiring open standards, considering open source technologies on equal footing with proprietary offerings – all of that is essential for the public sector.
EIF 1.0 has, indeed, had a global lead role on this. The openness principles of EIF 1.0 have been widely welcomed by member states, the general public as well as by governments all over the globe. Using non-documented, proprietary specifications or trying to achieve interoperability without open standards on the basis of homogeneity of IT systems will lead to critical lock-in situations and negatively impact choice, competition and innovation. The updated EIF 2.0 should leave no doubts on this. Especially as openness is high on the Commission's agenda as a central element for the transformation of the EU into an Innovation Society as pointed out by President Barroso in his recent speech at the European Innovation Summit.