As of mid 2011 the EU had already formulated a strategy to "open up" available government data. These plans where made in the light of already existing nationals portals in the US , the UK and France. As of December 12, 2011, the EU has now described a vision of what is hoped to happen once data collected by national governments and institutions across the EU is better accessible.
Boost for European Economy
The status now is that the EU proposes to update the already existing 2003 Directive on the re-use of public sector information. The "Open Data Strategy for Europe" is expected to deliver a "€30 billion boost to the EU's economy each year".
"The strategy to lift performance EU-wide is three-fold: firstly the Commission will lead by example, opening its vaults of information to the public for free through a new data portal.
Secondly, a level playing field for open data across the EU will be established.
Finally, these new measures are backed by the €100 million which will be granted in 2011-2013 to fund research into improved data-handling technologies."
Put to good use the EU hopes to emerge as a "global leader in the re-use of public sector information" - so far the US and the UK where clearly leading in this space. More specifically the EU, with Nellie Kroes as a central promoter, wants to turn public information into helpful apps, programs and as a starting point for analysis of what's happening, ideally for the benefit of the public.
Quote from the press release:
"Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said: "We are sending a strong signal to administrations today. Your data is worth more if you give it away. So start releasing it now: use this framework to join the other smart leaders who are already gaining from embracing open data. Taxpayers have already paid for this information, the least we can do is give it back to those who want to use it in new ways that help people and create jobs and growth.”
The press release was eagerly awaited by proponents of Open Data, e.g. by the very active "Open Knowledge Foundation", based in London, which has created a pan-european network of open data initiatives.
A push to open public data
The EU wants to create (Quote) "a general rule that all documents made accessible by public sector bodies can be re-used for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, unless protected by third party copyright". Though this might get quite complicated in detail, what is shown here is a belief, that if the data available would be treated similar as for example open source software the market as a whole can grow and benefit.
Furthermore it is planned to establish:
"the principle that public bodies should not be allowed to charge more than costs triggered by the individual request for data (marginal costs); in practice this means most data will be offered for free or virtually for free, unless duly justified." (Quote)
Data in usable formats
As of today, often the data provided by public institutions is only available after repeated calls to the institutions and then - more often then not - often in formats that are hard to read and analyse, such as PDFs. While PDFs are good to maintain the form of printed material this transformation of data from databases into a "print" format causes a lot of work when journalists want to work with it. The EU aims to end this, by "making it compulsory to provide data in commonly-used, machine-readable formats, to ensure data can be effectively re-used."
New data portal
As planned since mid 2011, the "Commission will make its own data public through a new "data portal", for which the Commission has already agreed the contract." This portal is currently in ‘beta version’ (development and testing phase) with an expected launch in spring 2012. In time this will serve as a single-access point for re-usable data from all EU institutions, bodies and agencies and national authorities."
Background (from EU press release)
- Open Data is general information that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone - either free or at marginal cost.
- The Commission's proposal today would operate in full respect of rules on the treatment of personal data.
- Studies conducted on behalf of the European Commission show that industry and citizens still face difficulties in finding and re-using public sector information. That is to say, open data is largely undeveloped in Europe.
- In the important sector of geographical information, almost 80% of the respondents to Commission surveys say that they are prevented from making full use of information held by public bodies. Reasons include high fees, non-transparent rules and practices regarding re-use, a lack of transparency on what type of data is held and by whom, and exclusive licensing agreements which may have the effect of undermining competition.
- In its 'Digital Agenda for Europe' the Commission identified the re-use of public sector information, alongside fast and ultra fast internet access, as key to delivering a Digital Single Market.
Press release: Turning Data into Gold
If your are interested in getting in contact with other open data experts, this list is a good start: http://wiki.okfn.org/Working_Groups/euopendata
Speech on Open Data by Neelie Kroes
(December 12, 2011)
European Commission Open Data website