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32 European ministers call for more Free Software in governmental infrastructure

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On 6 October, 32 European Ministers in charge of eGovernment policy signed the Tallinn Declaration on eGovernment that calls for more collaboration, interoperable solutions, and sharing of good practices throughout public administrations and across borders. Amongst other things, the EU ministers recognised the need to make more use of Free Software solutions and Open Standards when (re)building governmental digital systems with EU funds.

The Tallinn Declaration, lead by the Estonian EU presidency, has been adopted on 6 October 2017. It is a ministerial declaration that marks a new political commitment at European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Area (EFTA) level on priorities to ensure user-centric digital public services for both citizens and businesses cross-border. While having no legislative power, the ministerial declaration marks a political commitment to ensure the digital transformation of public administrations through a set of commonly agreed principles and actions.

The FSFE has previously submitted its input for the aforementioned declaration during the public consultation round, asking for greater inclusion of Free Software in delivering truly inclusive, trustworthy and interoperable digital services to all citizens and businesses across the EU.

The adopted Tallinn Declaration proves to be a forward-looking document that acknowledges the importance of Free Software in order to ensure the principle of 'interoperability by default', and expresses the will of all signed EU countries to:

"make more use of open source solutions and/or open standards when (re)building ICT systems and solutions (among else, to avoid vendor lock-ins)[...]"

Additionally, the signatories call upon the European Commission to:

"consider strengthening the requirements for use of open source solutions and standards when (re)building of ICT systems and solutions takes place with EU funding, including by an appropriate open licence policy – by 2020."

The last point is especially noteworthy, as it explicitly calls for the European Commission to make use of Free Software and Open Standards in building their ICT infrastructure with EU funds, which is in line with our "Public Money, Public Code" campaign that is targeted at the demand for all publicly financed software developed for the public sector to be publicly made available under Free Software licences.

What's next?

The Tallinn Declaration sets several deadlines for its implementation in the next few years: with the annual presentation on the progress of implementation of the declaration in the respective countries across the EU and EFTA through the eGovernment Action Plan Steering Board. The signatories also called upon the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU to evaluate the implementation of the Tallinn Declaration in autumn 2018.

"The Declaration expresses the political will of the EU and EFTA countries to digitise their governments in the most user-friendly and efficient way. The fact that it explicitly recognises the role of Free Software and Open Standards for a trustworthy, transparent and open eGovernment on a high level, along with a demand for strengthened reuse of ICT solutions based on Free Software in the EU public sector, is a valuable step forward to establishing a "Public Money, Public Code" reality across Europe", says Polina Malaja, the FSFE's policy analyst.