The European Commission will spend EUR 189 million on proprietary software over the next six years, in direct contradiction to its own decisions and guidelines. The Commission last week announced a six-year framework contract to acquire a wide range of mostly proprietary software and related services1.
"This is a rough deal for Europe", says Karsten Gerloff, President of Free Software Foundation Europe. "Instead of coming up with a strategy to take advantage of Free Software and become independent from vendors, the Commission is digging itself deeper into the vendor lock-in hole."
Last week's contract goes against the stated intentions of several Commission documents. European procurement rules say that public sector buying practices should "avoid discrimination and open up public procurement to competition."
UPDATE: The EC's Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT) has replied to our criticism. At their request, we are posting their reply. We have commented extensively, touching upon many important issues in software procurement. We have shared our response with DIGIT.
The Digital Agenda, published in May 2010, calls for "ICT products and services" to be "open and interoperable"2. A guideline issued by the EC's OSOR project cites European procurement rules to say that "calls for tender [...] should be based on functional requirements, not on specific products or vendors"3, while last week's contract comes with a long list of specific products which the Commission wants to buy.
In the Malmö and Granada declarations of 2009 and 2010, the European Union's member states called on the EC to "pay particular attention to the benefits resulting from the use of open specifications in order to deliver services in the most cost-effective manner", and to "[e]mbed innovation and cost effectiveness into eGovernment through the systematic promotion of open standards and interoperable systems"4.
The procurement process was conducted by the Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT). This department is also leading the process to revise the European Interoperability Framework. FSFE has strongly criticised5 previous drafts6 for falling behind the original version in their support of Open Standards7 and Free Software8.
"European citizens expect the Commission to keep its costs low, to spend their tax money in ways that promote Europe's development, and to stick to its own policies," comments Gerloff. "This behaviour by DIGIT fails Europeans on all three counts. It damages the Commission's credibility."