New European Interoperability Framework calls on public sector to contribute to Free Software

Escrito por Polina Malaja 

The revised "new" European Interoperability Framework (EIF), adopted by the European Commission on 23 March 2017, gives specific guidance on how to set up interoperable digital public services, and offers public administrations concrete recommendations on how to improve interoperability of their e-services.

The FSFE participated in the public consultation round on the draft version of the revised EIF (published in 2016). The "new" EIF includes significant improvements in alignment with our answers and in contrast to the draft version and the previous EIF v.2. However, the European Commission (EC) has not sufficiently addressed the risks that a FRAND-based standardisation policy pose to Free Software.

In alignment with our answers to the public consultation, the new EIF includes the principle of openness that was absent from the draft version. Furthermore, the principle of openness according to the new EIF requires public administrations to actively consider using Free Software when offering their public services:

Recommendation 3: Ensure a level playing field for open source software and demonstrate active and fair consideration of using open source software, taking into account the total cost of ownership of the solution.

Furthermore, according to the new EIF public administrations should not only use Free Software but "whenever possible contribute to the pertinent developer communities". Free Software is also called "an enabler of the underlying EIF principle on reusability". This is a significant improvement in comparison to both previous EIF v.2 (published in 2010) and the draft version that was open for public consultation. The need for more Free Software when offering e-services was also expressed by majority of citizen respondents to the public consultation, and it is plausible to see that the EC included the wishes of the EU citizens to the new EIF.

Licensing policies of so called "open specifications" (the alternative term the European Commission uses for Open Standards) have also been revised for the better. The EIF v.2 based its appropriate licensing model on what is described as "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" (FRAND)/or royalty-free terms, despite that FRAND does not allow standards to be implemented in Free Software.

The new EIF gives a slight preference to the royalty-free licensing terms when it comes to licensing of "open specifications", which is an improvement to the previous version.

However, the new EIF ignores the fact that "royalty-free" is not a sub-term of FRAND, and the way the new EIF is worded still gives a preference to FRAND terms, but just without royalties. This is extremely problematic, as the effects of FRAND do not solely come from royalty-related criteria, but also include several other restrictions that make FRAND incompatible with Free Software.

Unfortunately, the way the new EIF is basing its licensing policies of open specifications can still prevent Free Software projects from offering their services to the public sector.