Friday, 24 September 2010

European Parliament takes clear stance on openness in the context of completing the internal market

Earlier this week the European Parliament finished its “Report on completing the internal market for e-commerce” (2010/2012(INI)). It is a very interesting document, very comprehensively addressing the full spectrum of electronic commerce in relation to the internal marekt – and definitely worth reading.

In this report, once again, the Parliament takes a very clear stance on openness as critical for the internal market in many ways. It acknowledges the "importance of open and neutral access to a high-speed internet connection, without which e-commerce would be impossible" (clause 43). And it asks the Commission "to work towards creating rules and standards" to overcome the "non-interoperability of software on commercial and social networking websites" (clause 47).

Very precisely the Parliament is clear on the need for open standards in the context of e-commerce. In clause 51 the Parliament expresses that it
“Believes that the development of, and support for, common, open technical and operational specifications and standards (for compatibility, interoperability, accessibility, security, logistics, delivery, etc.) will facilitate cross-border e-commerce by assisting consumers, especially vulnerable and inexperienced computer users, and by bridging the operational, technical, cultural and language barriers that exist between the various Member States;”

More specifically, the parliament clearly requires the use of an open standard in the area of document formats. As stated in clause 41 the parliament “Highlights the importance of an open document exchange format for electronic business interoperation and calls on the Commission to take concrete steps to support its emergence and spread”. For sure, the Open Document Format (ODF) standard which was developed by OASIS and approved by ISO (ISO/IEC 26300) is the standard available for use today. It has been implemented in multiple competing products and is demonstrating interoperability in real life on a daily basis.

Some statements in the document certainly require some more clarification and detailed specification. In general, however, I think this report is another milestone in the policy debate where Europe is taking leadership on openness and open standards acknowledging the benefits of openness for both societies and business. To some extend this complements the work the Commission successfully started years ago with the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) version 1.0 which recommends open standards for achieving pan-European, cross-border interoperability in eGovernment services.

Indeed, in all areas where software-to-software interoperability is concerned, open standards are critical for ensuring interoperability. They promote innovation in providing a trusted and open base for everyone to implement and use – and to innovate on top of. They are a basis for service oriented architectures and they prevent single-vendor lock-in, foster competition, allow choice and keep costs low – including most notably exit costs for technologies.

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