EU open data strategy could reap €40bn annually

12 Dec 2011

The European Commission has today kick started an Open Data Strategy for Europe, in a move that could deliver an annual €40bn boost to the EU’s economy.

The commission indicated today that Europe’s public administrations are sitting on a “goldmine of unrealised economic potential” from the massive volumes of information being collected by numerous public authorities and services.

Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes said today that the strategy to lift performance EU-wide will be three-fold.

  1. Firstly, the commission is preparing to lead by example, opening its vaults of information to the public for free through a new data portal.
  2. Secondly, it will establish a level playing field for open data across the EU.
  3. Thirdly, these new measures will backed by the €100m which will be granted in 2011-2013 to fund research into improved data-handling technologies.

The commission said these actions will position Europe as the “global leader in the re-use of public-sector information”.

And the ways in which the EU will achieve this?

It indicated that its digital action will boost the industry that turns raw data into the material that hundreds of millions of ICT users depend on, for example, smartphone apps, such as maps, real-time traffic and weather information and price-comparison tools. It said other beneficiaries will include journalists and academics.

“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,” said Kroes.

The Commission has proposed to update the 2003 directive on the re-use of public sector information by:

  • Making it a 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.
  • Establishing the principle that public bodies should not be allowed to charge more than costs triggered by the individual request for data (marginal costs). The commission elaborated by saying this practice will mean most data will be offered for free or virtually for free, unless duly justified.
  • Making it compulsory to provide data in commonly used, machine-readable formats, to ensure data can be effectively re-used.
  • Introducing regulatory oversight to enforce these principles.
  • Expanding the reach of the directive to include libraries, museums and archives for the first time; the existing 2003 rules will apply to data from such institutions.

In addition, the commission will make its own data public through a new data portal. This portal is currently in beta version, 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, said the Commission today.

Almost 80pc of the respondents to commission surveys up to now have said 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.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic