The European Commission (EC) has given in to the demands of lobbyists for Microsoft and SAP when it revised a key document on interoperability between electronic government services. The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has analysed the evolution of a new version of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), showing that Commission has based its work on the input of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a lobby group for proprietary software vendors, and ignored the voices of a large part of the European software industry. At the same time, remarks by the EC's Vice President about Free Software point to a worrying lack of awareness within the Commission.
A draft for a revision of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) leaked to the press earlier this month. Whereas the earlier version of the document strongly supports the use of Free Software and Open Standards in the public sector, the new text only carries a meaningless description of an "openness continuum", which absurdly enough includes proprietary specifications.
FSFE has tracked how key parts of the revised European Interoperability Framework have evolved over time. A version of the document was the basis of a public consultation in the summer of 2008. FSFE's analysis shows in detail how from this basis, the views of the BSA lobby group have influenced the present draft of the text. At the same time, the European Commission has ignored comments by companies, groups and individuals in favour of Open Standards and Free Software.
"The European Commission must not make itself the tool of particular interests. The current draft is unacceptable, and so is the total lack of transparency in the process that has led to this text," says Karsten Gerloff, FSFE's President.
On this background, recent remarks by Siim Kallas, the European Commission's Vice President in charge of administration, show a worrying lack of awareness of Open Standards and Free Software in parts of the Commission. In a high-level press conference (Flash) on November 19 in Malmö, Sweden, Kallas said that he considered Free Software a problem for "business continuity". He likened Free Software to a Wikipedia article, saying that "in Wikipedia text, you see that there are brackets and footnotes, that information should be confirmed, or should be checked [...], and if you use open source, if you use the same logic in operational things, you must have certainty what will happen next."
FSFE is deeply concerned about these remarks. "Mr Kallas is badmouthing a whole sector of the European IT economy", says Gerloff. "Either Mr Kallas is actively hostile to Free Software and Open Standards, or he is entirely ignorant about them. Both is simply not justifiable in a Vice President of the European Commission in charge of the EC's administration."
Elmar Geese, Chair of Linux-Verband, a German association of Free Software businesses with 80 members, shows himself surprised at Mr Kallas' remarks. "We do not know who advised Mr Kallas to say these things. To me, this sounds like the propaganda of fear, uncertainty and doubt from 10 years ago. We invite Mr Kallas to inform himself about the Free Software industry. I am sure this will change his mind."
Jan Wildeboer, Red Hat EMEA Evangelist, rejects Kallas' remarks. "Compared to many proprietary alternatives, Free Software shows that it not only saves money but also delivers high quality solutions. The use of Free Software in mission-critical environments all over the world is proof of its quality."
Such statements from the EC give a boost to the critics of the new version of the EIF. FSFE argues that the original EIF has served well as a guideline to the European public sector. Even though it is only a recommendation, it has become an important reference in Europe and beyond. If it needs to be revised, the new document should improve interoperability through reliance on Open Standards, rather than promote proprietary software and specifications. The Commission should go back to the consultation document and work from there, making sure that this time comments from all sides are properly addressed.
Red Hat's Wildeboer shares the criticism: "It is good to see that EIFv2 is under more scrutiny now. We need a strong focus on interoperability based on Open Standards. The leaked draft version shows how a lack of transparency can hurt that goal. Now is the time to ask some serious questions. I fully trust the Commission to reinstate the goals of EIFv1. Open Standards and Open Specifications are key to interoperability."
FSFE's President Karsten Gerloff argues: "If the Member States of the European Union want to preserve the credibility of European institutions, they should reject the current draft of the EIF. Instead, they should help the Commission to build a better one that puts Open Standards front and centre."