Guest Post: FOSS and the European Parliament

From time to time OSS Watch will be publishing guest blog posts here to highlight interesting opinions from around the FOSS community. This post is by Gerry Gavigan, chairman of the Open Source Consortium.

Elections for the European Parliament are scheduled for 2 June 2009, and this seems like an ideal opportunity to broach the subject of ICT policies and draw the attention of candidates to the issues surrounding choices by government and its administration concerning software and systems. Hopefully, this will at least raise the profile and gain better consideration of the underpinning issues and lead to wider adoption of Free and Open Source Software.

One initiative attempting to do this is the Free Software Pact (FSP) providing candidates with a method to inform the voting public that “they favour the development and use of Free Software, and will protect it from possible threatening EU legislation.”

As Chairman of the Open Source Consortium I was asked to help promote the FSP. Fundamentally I agree with the underlying objectives of the FSP but I am not sure that the approach to implementation is well thought through.

I am convinced that level playing fields coupled with open and transparent processes topped off with effective governance (easier said than done, of course) are all that Free Software needs for new installations and also to trickle through the arteries and capillaries of existing ICT deployments, eventually eliminating the externalities of proprietary software (largely summarisable as the deadweight costs arising from distortions in the market). I should add that this opinion is vendor neutral. I don’t care who it is or how Free Software is supplied.

If we are to achieve this nirvana we need to approach those we are seeking to influence in terms that are meaningful to them. This is not always easy but that is not an excuse not to try. And it may require several goes. Additionally if one is seeking to influence politicians or administrations is is easier to go with the grain of things than start again somewhere else.

With that in mind and prompted by the FSP, it seems right to put my drafting where my opinions were. Accordingly the OSC has created a draft form letter that hope as many people as possible will send it to the candidates in their constituency.

Dear…

Support Implementation of draft European Interoperability Framework V2 “EIF V2”

As you are a candidate in the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament I am writing to seek your support for a simple measure that will help citizens, businesses and European society.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has become a critical part of European infrastructure; a modern economy cannot function without it.

Optimal choices in ICT need a European policy on interoperability in ICT.

Interoperability means it does not matter how you mix and match the constituent parts of ICT, they will just work with each other without problems or issues. Such choice also means that users of your ICT systems (e.g., users of European or national government on-line services) do not have to make ICT choices based on your decisions, e.g., having to use a specific web browser (that itself may require a specific operating system).

Many European and national ICT systems have been implemented using software which does not enable easy interoperability, and instead creates an effect where it becomes easier, and some cases necessary, to choose more of the same supplier’s products, and harder to choose competing products.

Moreover, once governments or local administrations have decided to use software that does not enable easy interoperability, that choice imposes a requirement for the citizen or customer to choose the same software.

This network effect prevents choice, competition and limits opportunities to promote innovation outside vendor control, in the whole European arena for ICT.

To have agreed as policy the (draft) EIF V2 ( http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7728) will halt and eventually reverse this situation.

This draft has been criticised by vendors currently benefiting from the current uneven playing field, but its adoption would not prevent any vendor, current or future, from supplying ICT to European or national governments.

The EIF is not considered to by all to be perfect, but getting it firmly “inside the tent” would enable it to be improved. I urge you to adopt or adapt this letter and write.

You can find your existing MEPs and candidates here.

Gerry Gavigan