is a perfect fit for the public sector. It is a public resource that
government organisations can use, study, improve, and share with
each other. For citizens, this means transparency, cost efficiency,
and the freedom to interact with their government in the way that
suits them best.
But not all government institutions are taking advantage of Free
Software. In consequence, public funds are being wasted, and
programs that should be free are being locked away. This
also makes life hard for the Free Software-based companies who
employ people in Europe, and pay their taxes here.
FSFE explains the problem
Procurement is a field for specialists. Many procurement officials are
still not fully aware of Free Software. Combined with inertia in
public sector IT departments, this means that too many public bodies
never look beyond their long-standing relations with suppliers of
At FSFE, we work with journalists and researchers to highlight the
work of public sector organisations that are doing it right. When a
public body makes mistakes, we help them to correct them. And when
necessary, we put pressure on organisations that insist on harmful
ways of purchasing software.
Why procurement matters
Public procurement spending equals nearly 20% of the EU's GDP 1. The
public sector's procurement choices have very real effects on the
economy, and play a significant role in determining the sort of firms
that thrive in the market.
Even with current procurement practices, Free Software already
delivers very significant benefits for the European economy. Daffara
(2012) estimates that Europeans enjoy 114 billion EUR per year in
direct cost savings thanks to Free Software2.Anecdotal evidence points in the same direction. Many public adminstrations that begin using Free Software see their IT costs drop by 50-90%.
The public sector's buying decisions also has a significant influence
on the development of a healthy supplier ecosystem for Free Software
products and services. With more government institutions as their
customers, many such companies could thrive more quickly, and there
would be more and better Free Software programs available to the
FSFE speaks up when things go wrong...
In 2010, the European Commission made a glaring mistake. The
Commission had issued numerous policy statements in favour of Free
Software and Open Standards. But when it came to buying software and
services for itself, it went straight to Microsoft and its
resellers. Companies offering Free Software never had a chance, even
though their products offered the same functionality.
We saw that the Commission had certainly breached the spirit, if not
the letter, of the law. So we took them to task, generating lots of
press coverage - right up to the New York Times.
We want the European Commission to procure
the software products it needs in an open, competitive fashion,
giving Free Software suppliers the same opportunities as it gives
to proprietary vendors and their resellers.
We want the EC to take a long-term view of its IT strategy,
realise the dangers of lock-in, and figure future exit costs into
the price of any solution it acquires.
This is what the Commission owes to Europe's citizens. Sticking to
the letter and spirit of European procurement law would be an
…and offers independent solutions
Fortunately, most people are more open to progress than that.
We help procurement officials understand the full impact of
their actions, and we help them to do better -- not only for
their organisations, but also for the citizens whom they serve.
At FSFE, we are in constant dialogues with procurement
specialists across Europe. We observe new approaches, identify
what works, and provide analysis to decision makers. We help
specialists in different countries learn from each other.
To speed up change at the ground level, we also work with
national governments to help them draft policies that promote
Free Software adoption. In January 2014, Italy introduced a rule
requiring public bodies to first evaluate Free Software before
buying non-free solutions. FSFE's General Counsel Carlo Piana
was part of the expert committee installed by the government to
design this rule, alongside participants from all sectors of the
This is the sort of change that FSFE helps to create. Please
support us in this effort.
- Open Forum Europe (2013): OFE Procurement Monitoring Report 2012 , 2nd Snapshot, p. 2
- Carlo Daffara (2012): Estimating the Economic Contribution of Open Source Software to the European Economy. In: Shane Coughlan (ed.)(2012): The First OpenForum Academy Conference Proceedings, pp. 11-14