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Open Letter “Free and Open Source EU Policy Recommendations”

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At the end of September together with Open Forum Europe we organised a meeting in Brussels to bring together Free Software experts from around Europe. Goal of the meeting was to discuss Free Software and its driving role in the digital transformation in Europe, and in particular how the European institutions can further facilitate these developments.

Open Letter “Free and Open Source EU Policy Recommendations”

After the European Election, many Members of the European Parliament left the Parliament and new ones got in their place. Also the European Commission will be transformed, new Commissioners will be elected and restructuring processes will take place in the upcoming weeks. As we have seen in the latest debates, i.e. the discussion around the copyright reform, it is crucial to create awareness among policy makers to make the right choices in the light of new, upcoming legislation which will touch Free Software. On the other hand, there is the growing interest in the adoption and use of Free Software within the European Institutions, still there is a lack of commitment.

Therefore, the attendees of the meeting agreed on an open letter which will be sent to representatives and decision makers in the EU. The letter contains recommendations in the field of research, EU institutional capacity and demands on previous commitments regarding Free Software supportive policy-decisions.

To have big impact on the European institutions, we need alliances. Please send us an e-mail to contact@fsfe.org if your organisation wants to sign and support the open letter as well.

FREE AND OPEN SOURCE EU POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

Brussels, 26 September 2019

On this day, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) experts from around Europe met in Brussels to discuss FOSS and its driving role in the digital transformation in Europe and how the EU can further facilitate these developments. The undersigned organisations have agreed to the following Open Letter.

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) refers to all programs distributed under specific terms and licenses that allow users to use the software for any purpose, to study how the program works, to improve the program to their needs and to share it with others, enabling innovation through collaboration.

Free and Open Source Software is mainstream technology with enterprise FOSS underpinning critical infrastructure in a wide range of sectors such as government, finance, security, telecommunications, healthcare, manufacturing and transport in Europe. It is today the R&D community of the digital transformation, with some of the biggest internet and mobile platforms to the Cloud built upon and actively contributing and co-developing it. In fact, European companies of all sizes rely heavily on FOSS to increase their pace of innovation in order to compete globally. FOSS development provides much of the fuel behind European technology priorities like eGovernment, Artificial Intelligence, HPC, Blockchain, 5G, eHealth, Industry 4.0, Connected Cars and the Internet of Things.

In order to establish trustworthy systems, and achieve technological sovereignty, European public bodies should ensure they have full control over the software and the computer systems at the core of our governmental digital infrastructures.

In that same vein, the EU has taken significant steps in the area of FOSS to digitally transform, but also “walk the policy talk”. By way of example, the European Commission's recent Digital Strategy and emphasis on co-creation as well as long standing policies/frameworks such as ISA² Program, the Open Source Observatory, the EU Open Source Strategy, and the objectives laid out in the Tallinn Declaration. Other initiatives include hackathons to help engage with the community as well as specific projects such as FOSSA 2 in cooperation with the European Parliament. Much more can be done, however, to unlock the potential of Free and Open Source Software in the EU.

That Member States and third countries signed the Tallinn Declaration in 2017 presents further evidence of the realisation of Free and Open Source Software being critical to starting/accelerating/improving a successful digital transformation. Some countries like France, Italy or Bulgaria have introduced FOSS legislation. Cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona are using more and more FOSS-enabling cross-border collaboration within the EU and worldwide. Major projects can share expertise and costs, similar applications don't have to be programmed from scratch every time and with transparent processes, and others don't have to reinvent the wheel. This is also strengthening the European ideals of working together.

A majority of officials are not yet fully aware of FOSS’s importance within broader digital strategies. Most current digital strategies of public administrations could be updated yet more to reflect how Free and Open Source Software fits within the European technological independence and European growth in digital government, eHealth, Cloud computing, its relevance to SME-led innovation and a European IT market, Open Science, Industry 4.0, within Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence.

The signatories therefore address the EU institutions with the following recommendations for the next five years:

Research

Issue: There exists already a wealth of research on Free and Open Source Software, much of which have been funded by EU research grants and by the Commission. However, gaps exist in four specific areas, for which the European Commission is best-placed to produce much-needed research.

Rec 1: In the evaluations and midterm reports of Horizon Europe and Digital Europe programmes, particular focus should be given to FOSS and its role and relevance in the EU research funding instruments.

Rec 2: We welcome the European Commission call for tenders for a FOSS market study. It should however be updated with a similar cadence to other Digitisation measurement projects (e.g. DESI), in order to track the development as the rate of growth of FOSS is significant.

Rec 3: The European Commission should continue to research how to co-develop and support communities around FOSS solutions such as in the area of eGovernment.

Rec 4: The European institutions should, when funding research, make sure that the principles of open access science should also cover software developed as part of that research. As such it should be released under a FOSS license. This fosters collaboration between research teams and ensures reproducibility.

EU Institutional Capacity

Issue: It is necessary to take a holistic approach to digital policy. There were unintended consequences on FOSS businesses stemming from legislation under the Digital Single Market. A broader view requires all relevant Commission services to be aware and act towards enabling European FOSS to succeed.

Rec 5: The European Commission should bolster existing resources focusing on explore the creation of a unit with a clear mandate to work withFOSS and/or institute a cross-DG, cross-cabinet collaboration focused on FOSS’sincreasing importance in the digital transformation.

Rec 6: The European institutions should rely on the well-documented wealth of knowledge available in FOSS communities when making policy decisions to minimize unintended consequences.

Rec 7: The European institutions should reach out to the FOSS community when preparing policy decisions, to extend its interaction from the technical to the policy level, to minimise the risk of unintended consequences.

Follow through on FOSS commitments

Issue: The European institutions and the Member States have made great commitments to openness. These commitments need to be fulfilled to reap their benefits.

Rec 8: The European Commission should follow up the Member States’ commitments in the Tallinn Declaration and proactively take its role in supporting and monitoring the implementation of the Declaration in Member States.

Rec 9: The European institutions and Member States should begin considerations for a follow-up, more ambitious Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment, including further concrete goals and commitments for FOSS.

Rec 10: When developing software, the European Commission needs to follow its commitment to developing software under a FOSS license and Develop In the Open (DITO), and encourage all EU institutions moving towards a FOSS by default approach.