The Parliament WRITTEN QUESTION E-3622/08 ("Use of open source software in the Commission") by Hiltrud Breyer to the Commission concerns both use of open source and open standards. The German member of Parliament wants to see a more proactive embracement of open source and open standards, a demand shared by many of her colleagues. She asks for a more specific plan for the adoption of open standards. September 17 2008 Commissioner Kallas responded on behalf of the European Commission to her question raised three month earlier. The relevant content of these questions is reproduced below.
It has to be pointed out that the EU-Commission does not respond to specific requests for information concerning timescales. The German MEP seems to be used to the German parliament style of written questions. On the European level the Commission usually tends to hand pick some of the issues raised and takes the freedom not to answer complex questions. This is why MEPs usually need to file seperate questions.
Hiltrud Breyer's first question about conversion to open standards
Open standards and open source software are ready to be used in public institutions. The Foreign Office in Germany already began converting its IT infrastructure to Linux and open source software in 2000, and publicised its positive experiences with the operating system and software. The French police force is also working with open standards and open source software, and the Dutch Government and Parliament are expressing interest in using it. In addition to the cost savings to public funds when purchasing and maintaining operating systems and software, the use of open standards and open source software ensures the independence of software enterprises, stimulates innovation and guarantees that all citizens have an opportunity for political involvement, regardless of which operating system and software they use.
1. Does the Commission plan to convert its IT infrastructure to open standards and open source software? If so, is there a timescale in place? If not, why not?
Open Standards can be implemented both in proprietary software and OSS, and OSS solutions are not necessarily always compatible with Open Standards. Therefore, there is as such no formal relationship between OSS and Open Standards. However, Open Standards are generally widely supported in OSS and many Open Standards have reference implementations in OSS.
Is has to be highligthed that for the Commission the use of any particular category of Information Technology (IT) tools at internal level is not an objective in itself but rather a means to achieve its political, economic and social mandate, including carrying out its tasks in the most efficient way, constantly ensuring appropriate user satisfaction and best value for EU taxpayers' money.
The Commission has adopted and, whenever required, updated its specific "OSS Strategy" since 2001. The rationale and main lines of this strategy in its current form are publicly available. For more information, the Honourable Member is invited to consult the following reference site: http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7389/5998.
The key items of this strategy are:
(1)The Commission will formalise the use of OSS where a clear benefit can be expected.
(2)The Commission will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurement. Contracts will be awarded on a "value for money" basis. Not only licence costs but also setup, maintenance, support and training costs of all alternative solutions will be considered.
(3) For all future IT developments, the Commission shall promote the use of products that support recognised, well-documented standards. Inter-operability is a critical issue for the Commission and usage of well-established Open Standards is a key factor to achieve and endorse it.
(4) For all new development, where deployment and usage is foreseen by parties outside of the Commission IT infrastructure, OSS will be the preferred development and deployment platform.
Unfortunately, the OSS strategy document the Commission talks about is not disclosed under the mentioned link. It seems respective documents are now hosted under the new Open Source Observatory website.
Hiltrud Breyer's second question on institutional promotion of open standards
2. Does the Commission regard it as its job to press ahead with converting European Union institutions to open standards and open source software? If so, what measures does the Commission plan to take and will should these be taken? If not, why not? …
Commission says it lacks competence for other European institutions
2. The Commission would like to point out that, although a significant degree of inter-institutional cooperation exists in the domain referred to in the Honourable Member's written question, the EU Institutions are administratively autonomous and separate from one another. As such, it is ultimately each EU Institution's responsibility to adopt any decisions in order to set up its administration as it sees fit. This principle also applies to procurement operations conducted under the Financial Regulation which for each Institution fall under the exclusive responsibility of the designated Authorising Officer(s).
Hiltrud Breyer's third question on platform neutrality
3. What action is the Commission taking to ensure that citizens with the appropriate software from any provider can access and receive information from EU institutions as well as governments and public authorities of the EU Member States?
Commission answer: we support ODF, PDF and more
3. The Commission is currently able to accept and generate documents compliant both with ISO1 standards, such as the Open Document Format (ODF) and the Portable Document Format (PDF), as well as with other formats widely used by citizens, businesses and public administrations.
In this area, the Commission constantly cooperates and exchanges views with the other European Institutions.
Furthermore, within the framework of the Commission's IDABC2 Programme, the Commission works with representatives of the Member States to promote and facilitate Open Document Exchange Formats (ODEF). For more information, the Honourable Member is invited to consult the following site:
The Commission does not respond here to issues concerning access to audiovisual content which is perceived as a "document" in accordance to the definition in the document access directive. In the case of audiovisual content users regularly complain about discrimination of certain software applications and a lack of support for open formats by the European institutions, which usually source out electronic register to external contractors without setting specific requirements.