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Hamburg, April 30th, 2002


of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSF Europe)
and supporting parties
for the
Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the rules for the participation of undertakings, research centres and universities and for the dissemination of research results for the implementation of the European Community framework programme 2002--2006

Download as PDF; 126k

[ Recommendation | Reasoning | Supporting Parties ] [ More Supporting Parties ]


The ``Introduction to the instruments available for implementing the FP6 priority thematic areas'' speaking notes and the ``modified proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council'' -- henceforth referred to as ``Proposal'' -- define several goals and priorities for the 6th framework programme. This section will explain why and how some of these can benefit from Free Software.

Increasing the European edge

To increase international competitiveness, it is important to encourage freedom from software and hardware dependencies on U.S. companies. Free Software is a proven way of furthering this independence as can be seen when studying the hardware platform independence of Free Software operating systems available today.

Free Software operating systems cover a wider range of hardware platforms than any proprietary operating system. Because of the inherent properties of Free Software, they can also be ported with fewer problems and by local suppliers, thus reducing the hardware dependency and opening up new perspectives for innovative hardware and software development and industry on both local and European levels.

As cited in paragraph 1 of the Proposal, Article 163 of the Treaty gives the Community the objective of strengthening the scientific and technological bases of Community industry and encouraging it to become more competitive at international level, while promoting research activities deemed neccessary by virtue of other Community policies.

Furthering Free Software will help achieving this objective.

Creating sustainable knowledge economy

Sustainability is one of the major advantages offered by Free Software, especially by ``Copylefted'' Free Software. One can easily find good indication for this when considering that this increased sustainability allowed Free Software to create two major operating systems1 as good as and in parts even better than the proprietary operating systems with a tiny fraction2 of the resources spent on the proprietary operating systems.

Since operating systems are the first part of the Free Software infrastructure, their creation was the initial step. Therefore they provide the largest base of experience with Free Software, which is why they have been chosen for most examples in this document.

It should be understood that Free Software works similarly in other fields and is not limited to operating systems, however.

In perspective of building a European knowledge economy, it should be self-explanatory that software will be the basis of this economy.

Access to the technology upon which the knowledge economy will be built should be encouraged, not prevented. The more people, organisations and companies have access to the fundamental prerequisites of the knowledge economy, the more dynamic and competitive the knowledge economy will become.

Free Software offers the highest accessibility known today.

These properties of Free Software can help meeting the goals of Paragraph 5 of the Proposal, which refers to conclusions aimed at the rapid establishment of a European research and innovation area with a view to job creation and economic growth, in the context of sustainable development, with the ultimate goal of enabling the Union, within the next ten years, to become the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy.

Ethical principles

Even though access to software has never been acknowledged as a fundamental right by any policial system known to us, it seems obvious that access to software becomes an increasingly important prerequisite to be able to participate in the cultural, social and economic development of mankind.

With software becoming the most important medium of communication, access to software and freedom to use software become immediately connected with such fundamental principles of democracy as freedom of speech3.

Free Software guarantees equal usage and access to all people, avoiding such problems entirely.

Therefore it also appears to be the best choice when viewed in accordance with paragraph 11 of the Proposal, which gives that research activities carried out within the framework programme must respect fundamental ethical principles, notably those which appear in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Integration of European Research and Industry

Free Software encourages integration and cooperation in a very effective way. The ability to work together regardless of the size or location of the partners involved is a major advantage that could be used to futher the European objectives.

Especially Copylefted Free Software helps keeping the playing field level and allows players as different as IBM, a local developer, Universities and a group of smaller European companies to cooperate on a project. This has been demonstrated by the recent engagement to bring GNU/Linux4 to the IBM S/390 mainframe.

Thanks to the properties of the GNU GPL5, none of these partners had to fear losing their investments6 or being taken advantage of.

The integration and cooperation between commercial and non-commercial partners made possible by Free Software is rather unique and partially responsible for the economic value of Free Software.

As given by Annex 1 of the Proposal, integration of European research while strengthening the scientific and technological bases of Community industry is a seminal objective to be furthered by the 6th framework programme that could profit from Free Software.

Strengthening transdisciplinary approaches

While integrating research activities in similar fields can be difficult, doing the same for transdisciplinary research will normally be much more complicated, albeit much more fruitful where it succeeds.

The same mechanisms that allow integration and cooperation between the commercial and non-commercial fields will simplify transdisciplinary cooperation, making Free Software an excellent choice to encourage such activities.

This would directly benefit Annex 1 of the Proposal, as well, which also specifies that research activities will be based on an integrated and, where relevant, transdisciplinary approach, incorporating as appropriate innovation and socio-economic dimensions.

Scientific software

With increasing reliance of science on software, software becomes an integral part of the scientific process. The scientific method relies on the ability to verify results, however, and only if this is possible will a scientific result hold any significance.

If such a result is somehow dependent on or published as proprietary software, verification becomes impossible, greatly reducing the impact of the research effort.

Free Software does not have these drawbacks, making it the best choice for all kinds of science, which is obviously a major concern of the Proposal.

Protection of personal data and privacy

Since communication through software is always opaque, it is seminal that the software itself is entirely transparent so people retain the possibility to know what the software does when they transmit personal or private data.

Currently, only Free Software is truly transparent.

As set out in the Charter of fundamental rights of the EU, protection of personal data and privacy becomes increasingly important when approaching the information age. Furthering Free Software will help upholding the Charter.

Information society technologies

As stated above, Europe already has a leading role in Free Software development and the European Free Software community is the most active worldwide.

As stated in section 1.1.2., ``Information society technologies,'' Europe is well positioned to lead and shape the future development not only of technologies but also of their impact on our life and work.

If Europe capitalised on this advantage, it could become the global leader in information technology and knowledge economy.

1 The most prominent Free Software operating system employed today is certainly the GNU/Linux system, -- often only referred to as ``Linux'' -- based on the GNU project started in 1984 by the Free Software Foundation; it should be noted however, that other Free Software operating systems like the ``Berkeley Source Distribution'' (BSD) based systems FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD are also quite successfully being used.
2 How large this fraction truly is can only be estimated. It is certainly below 10% and quite probably below 1%.
3 This does not seem overexaggerated in the light of some proprietary software licenses specifying that a piece of software (in this case a web publishing program) may not be used to say anything unfavorable about the software vendor. Even if this clause won't hold in court it clearly shows how technology can interfere with free speech.
4 The essential parts of which are covered under the GNU General Public License and GNU Lesser General Public License.
5 Please see
6 IBM invested 1 billion USD into its Free Software activities last year.