Last week the Commission published its final version of the Digital Agenda. This was developed under the leadership of Commissioner Kroes who took over the responsibility for the Digital Agenda with the new European Commission earlier this year.
The Digital Agenda is one of the so-called seven flagship initiatives of this Commission and its Europe 2020 strategy. The Digital Agenda's basic objective is given in the very first sentence of the document:
“The overall aim of the Digital Agenda is to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market based on fast and ultra fast internet and interoperable applications.”
Thus the Digital Agenda identifies the two key pillars of the digital age: (i) integration, networked societies and economies with the internet as the prime medium for communication and integration; and (ii) – close linked with the first – interoperability, interoperable applications that allow the exchange of data and the use of information and data.
The Digital Agenda covers the full spectrum of aspects, technologies, requirements and actions along these lines. It makes many excellent points and in general deserves a lot of praise and support. It integrates across Commission DGs and provides a consolidated and consistent strategy for the next decade. In the following I want to focus on the aspects around standardisation and interoperability. These play a key role, for sure, since the “Digital Agenda can only take off if its different parts and applications are interoperable and based on standards and open platforms” (p. 5).
Regarding standardisation, it is critical for the Digital Agenda that the changes and recommendations get implemented which the Commission outlined in its 2009 White Paper on “Modernising ICT Standardisation in the EU - The Way Forward” (COM(2009) 324 final). These changes will, above all, provide Europe with the necessary means for using and implementing standards that were developed globally and got wide market acceptance. And the white paper recommendations take precaution that only such standards will be eligible for use which were developed in open and transparent processes.
The Digital Agenda has taken this up as Key Action 5 announcing that the Commission will “propose legal measures on ICT interoperability by 2010 to reform the rules on implementation of ICT standards in Europe to allow use of certain ICT for and consortia standards” (p. 15). And it is outlined that the Commission will further promote the use of standards in public procurement because this will ensure interoperability, increase competition and reduce the risk of lock-in.
Regarding interoperability, the Commission stresses that in addition to the activies in the ISA programme (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations), most notably the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) and the European Interoperability Strategy (EIS), the Commission will “Examine the feasibility of measures that could lead significant market players to license interoperability information” (p. 16).
The Digital Agenda also touches on the issue of IPRs in standardisation. The Commission will further look at way to improve the situation for IPR transparency and certainty in the context of standardisation. Ex ante rules to be applied in standards organisations is one concrete example that is given.
To my mind the Digital Agenda is a milestone in the early work of the new Commission. It has potential to really drive governments, societies and economies in Europe as we are at the start of a decade that promises to lead us to very new and partly unimaginable realms of the ways we live and work. I highly welcome the clarity and the focus on change in the Digital Agenda. The ICT standards reform, for instance, has been on the Commission's table for too long already, all proposals and comments have been made – the Digital Agenda now puts it again into the proper – and highly relevant – context of the overall digital strategy for Europe.
I trust that the legal implementation will be driven fast now. It is of utmost importance for the success of using ICT in policy making, above all in innovation policy, take, for instance, the areas of eEnergy and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) dealt with in the Digital Agenda. If Europe wants to drive innovation in such leading-edge areas it needs to include ICT standards from global fora and consortia.
Some criticism was made regarding the lack of the term “open standard” in the Digital Agenda. This is, for sure, true. A concept like open standards that is so braodly used and applied including by EU member states can't be ignored by the Commission. While I understand that the term is not a “formal” term used by the Commission for European standardisation, there is no reason not to use it at all. Open standards are important – especially in the context of the internet, of software interoperability and of eGovernment.
Yet, the lack of using the term “open standard” seems to be really *just* an issue of terminology, not of concept or content. The Digital Agenda is very clear that it talks about “open platforms” (e.g. p. 5; p. 25) and about standards “which can be implemented by all interested suppliers” (p. 15). And – as mentioned above – the Digital Agenda is very clear on reducing lock-in and means to enforce interoperability. So there might be a little spot that the term “open standard” is not even mentioned, but it does not seem to be something to be worried about.
I am positive that this Digital Agenda will have a strong push effect for Europe; for openness, interoperability and the use and implementation of standards. It is in line with the overall Commission Europe 2020 strategy. It makes many things around ICT concrete and combines the different Commission's DG's efforts into a consistent strategy. And it provides a number of prerequisites and key actions for fostering innovation in Europe. The ball is still with the Commission, though, to go for a fast implementation of the actions.