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<title>FSFE's answers to the European Commission's Public Consultation:
Revision of the European Interoperability Framework</title>
<body class="article" microformats="h-entry">
<p id="category"><a href="/freesoftware/standards/standards.html">Open Standards</a></p>
<h1 id="comments-on-the-revision-of-the-european-interoperability-framework">Comments on
the revision of the European Interoperability Framework</h1>
<h2 id="introduction">Introduction</h2>
<p>The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) welcomes the European
Commission's initiative to update its European Interoperability Framework
(EIF) in order to abolish existing digital barriers between the interaction
of citizens and businesses with public administrations across all member
<p>Interoperability between administrations, citizens and businesses is a
prerequisite to a more efficient and effective delivery of digital public
services, as stated in the draft revision of the EIF (February 2016),
however it has to be acknowledged that interoperability is only a mean
to its end and not as an end by itself. Hence, <strong>the purpose the
revised EIF has to serve is enshrined in the founding treaties of the
European Union: the free movement of goods, people, services, and capital;
free competition; and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms</strong>.</p>
<h2 id="the-purpose-and-legal-framework-of-the-eif">The purpose and legal
framework of the EIF</h2>
<p>According to the <a href="">current
draft revision of the EIF</a>, the purpose of interoperability framework
is to provide guidance and a set of common core concepts for the design
and update of national interoperability frameworks, policies, strategies,
guidelines and other documents promoting interoperability on national level.
The review of the EIF, according to the Commission, is deemed necessary
in order to "<em>put more focus on the implementation</em> [emphasis added]
of the EIF rather than the simple alignment with the national approaches
on interoperability."</p>
<p>Hereby, it is important to stress that while the EIF has to set a good
example for a more efficient use of public services, it cannot hamper the
successful national frameworks (NIF) that already exist and function.</p>
<p>Such favourable examples, include the Government ICT Strategy (2011) in
the UK, or NIF in Estonia (Estonian Interoperability Framework), Denmark
(an agreement between the government and the regions and municipalities
to use open standards in order to secure interoperability), and Sweden
(Framework agreements that promote procurement of open standards and
Free Software). According to the KMPG study for the European Commission
about "State of Play of Interoperability in Europe - Report 2014"
(hereinafter, the Report) these countries have also been reported as the
leaders on interoperability in the EU<a class="fn" id="fnref1" href="#fn1">1</a>.
<strong>The explicit promotion of open standards and Free Software has
been indicated as one of the factors of enhanced interoperability</strong>
in the aforementioned countries. The way these member states have chosen
to ensure their interoperability to citizens and businesses should be set
as a positive example.</p>
<p>The draft revision of the EIF does not clearly indicate the relationship
between the revised EIF and the NIF. The purpose of the EIF, as stated
above, is to focus on the implementation of the EIF across member states,
however, the draft gives another contradictory explanation about this
interrelation: NIF have to developed in an aligned way with the EIF while
providing the necessary flexibility to address specific requirements.
It is unclear how such flexibility is intended to be guaranteed.</p>
<p>As 'interoperability' per se is not a value or a principle that is
codified through the EU founding treaties, the delivery of better public
services that foster competition, respect privacy and follow the principle
of non-discrimination does not end when the national public administrations
align their NIF with the EIF. There is always room for improvement on
both national and EU level, and the delivery of better public services
that are interoperable and reusable cannot be perceived in a legal vacuum.
National standardisation policies, procurement frameworks, and standardisation
strategies should complement the efforts, although it is out of scope of
the revised EIF.</p>
<p>Currently, there exists a <strong>substantial disparity</strong> between
the level of interoperability. While some countries are advanced in
delivering interoperable digital services, others are struggling to unify
their regulations in order to align with EIF (for more information see,
the Report).</p>
<blockquote><p><strong>Recommendation:</strong></p><p>In order to overcome national disparities,
the revised EIF needs to be clear and concise, include the best practices
amongst the member states that helped the latter to deliver, while bearing
in mind the overarching EU values such as free competition and non-discrimination
irrespective from one's nationality or a business model.</p></blockquote>
<h2 id="underlying-principles-of-european-public-services">Underlying principles
of European Public Services</h2>
<p>The FSFE welcomes the expansion of core principles identified in the
draft revision, especially in regard to the principles of user-centricity,
and effectiveness and efficiency. However, the previous EIF v.2 included
the separate principle of "Openness" which in the draft revision has lost
its initial meaning and is equated to transparency.</p>
<p>It is important to stress, that <strong>the idea of "openness" of solutions,
technical specifications, and implementations is a prerequisite not only
for interoperability but is crucial for the idea of technological neutrality,
user-centricity, and reusability</strong>. It is a principle of not only
transparent decision-making but also a key enabler for collaboration and
avoidance of vendor lock-in.</p>
<p>In EIF v.2, the principle of openness was inter alia defined as
"<em>the willingness of persons, organisations or other members of a
community of interest to share knowledge and stimulate debate within
that community</em>", with the ultimate goal of problem-solving.</p>
<p>This principle is closely linked to Free Software (also known as
"open source") which development and distribution system is inherently
based on the principle of openness: the willingness of persons, organisations
and businesses to share knowledge, solutions, and tools. The core of
Free Software is enshrined in four freedoms it grants: to use the software,
to share it with others, to study its source code, and to modify the software
according to one's needs.</p>
<p>Consequently, <strong>without Free Software and its underlying principle
of openness it is impossible to create fully reusable, secure and privacy-respecting
solutions</strong>. Free Software enables software distribution and use
without any restrictions. Due to this network effect, the use of standards
is spurred which in return results in significantly better interoperability.
The accessibility of the source code and the design information as well
as the rights to modify, onward develop and distribute Free Software
support reusability of good implementations. Hence, the overarching idea
of "openness" is an important principle for better interoperability.</p>
<p>The way the principle of "openness" is handled in the draft revision,
only refers to the question of "open data" and the transparency of
administrative decision-making. While it is important to ensure that the
citizens and companies are present in the decision-making over the quality
of public services, and to be able to access information stored about
them, it is not clear why the idea of collaborative knowledge-sharing
has been abandoned from the core principles the member states have to
comply with. Especially without any significant relevant additions
throughout the whole draft revision.</p>
<blockquote><p><strong>Recommendation:</strong></p><p>The FSFE, therefore, encourages the Commission
to reintroduce the principle of openness for the reuse of technical
solutions in the EIF as the core principle.</p></blockquote>
<h2 id="the-conceptual-model-for-integrated-public-services">The
conceptual model for integrated public services provision</h2>
<p>While it is important to ensure the accessibility of information and
services in interoperable formats, it is necessary to not limit such
principles to solely information and services. The draft revision is
inconsistent in its reference to "information", "services" and interoperable
"solutions". The latter is often referring to software, an essential
building block for technical interoperability. The technical interoperability
can be perceived as the most significant layer to the digitisation of the
European public services and its importance should not be underestimated.</p>
<p>Consequently, the conceptual model for integrated public services
(i.e. chapter 3 in the draft revision) should not only include the reusability
of "data and services" but have to include the reusability of technical
solutions in order to encompass all layers of interoperability. The conceptual
model, therefore, needs to acknowledge the importance of technical
interoperability and refer to such interoperability in an apparent way.
While the draft text acknowledges the importance of shared infrastructure
of "reusable building blocks", it is not very clear from the text if the
aforementioned building blocks include technical solutions, e.g. software.
As such, the conceptual model for integrated public services provision
cannot be complete without the proper attention to the all interoperability
layers identified in the draft revision.</p>
<blockquote><p><strong>Recommendation:</strong></p><p>In this regard, the Basic Components identified
in the chapter 3.3 of the draft revision, should in addition to the
reuse of data and services, <strong>include the reusability of technical
solutions in a clear and apparent way, in order to avoid duplication of
effort, extra costs and further interoperability problems</strong>,
bearing in mind the principle of openness, and avoidance of lock-in.</p>
<p>Hereby, it is important to ensure that no specific proprietary and
closed technical tools should be promoted in order to achieve the desired
"interoperability-by-design", but the reusability and the flexibility of
technical solutions that are open, sustainable, transparent and provided
under Free Software licences</p></blockquote>
<h2 id="interoperability-layers">Interoperability layers</h2>
<h3 id="reference-architectures">Reference architectures</h3>
<p>The draft revision identifies the importance of standards and specifications
in promoting interoperability, and in regard to their catalouging refers
to the European Interoperability Reference Architecture (EIRA) that
"should be used to define conceptual reference building blocks". While
it is important to promote certain tools in order to achieve the widest
interoperability across the member state, it is essential to recognise
other models of reference that in essence will contribute to the implementation
of desired "interoperability-by-design".</p>
<h4 id="open-specifications">Open specifications</h4>
<p>The FSFE welcomes the priority the draft revision is giving to the
open specifications in European Public Services. However, <strong>when
it comes to the technical interoperability and the reusability of technical
solutions, i.e. software, it is important to not only promote open
specifications but to allow software to act as a reference implementation
in order to achieve better interoperability.</strong> The latter can only
be achieved by publishing such software as Free Software.</p>
<p>Free Software is defined through the four rights it grants to its users:
to use, study, share, and improve the software. Instead of developing
lengthy specifications to the standard and expecting stakeholders to
find their ways to implement it, it is more efficient to publish the
source code and let everyone to copy and reshape the technology according
to their specific needs.</p>
<p>This is particularly important because for most software standards
the formal specification is insufficient, and the actual standard is
defined both through the written specification and actual implementations.
For the implementer the reference implementation is more valuable because
it allows her to avoid the extended phase of trial-and-error in order to
resolve specification ambiguities.</p>
<blockquote><p><strong>Recommendation:</strong></p><p>Reference implementation published under Free
Software licence may act as the formal specification without the
institutional standard setting process and can be reproduced by any
potential service provider. Therefore, allowing technology to be implemented
directly will result in avoidance of duplicating standards in order for
technology to be applied. Hence, reference implementation under a Free
Software licence will avoid unnecessary duplications, while at the same
encourage competition and enhance interoperability.</p></blockquote>
<h4 id="frand">FRAND</h4>
<p>The FSFE wants draw the Commission's attention to the contradiction
between the interoperability goals it sets and its position in regard to
acceptable licensing terms of open specifications on so-called FRAND
("fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory") terms. According to the
Commission, "this fosters competition since providers working under
various business models may compete to deliver products, technologies
and services based on such specifications".</p>
<p>It is necessary to understand that FRAND do not solely refer to the
royalty-bearing conditions that are incompatible with Free Software.
The problem of FRAND and Free Software cannot be eliminated by the formula
of "FRAND and/or royalty-free" licensing terms, as it has been proposed
in the draft revision.</p>
<p>FRAND are harmful towards Free Software in numerous ways<a class="fn" id="fnref2" href="#fn2">2</a>:
it goes against the core idea of Free Software which is based on open
collaborative space of innovation and knowledge-sharing. The fact that
FRAND terms create barriers for Free Software projects to implement the
technical specification, has amongst others been also acknowledged by
the European Commission.<a class="fn" id="fnref3" href="#fn3">3</a> In
this regard it is surprising to see the contradictory statement in the
draft revision stating the opposite.</p>
<p>As stated previously, Free Software licences create the open space
for collaboration by delivering four freedoms to everyone in a clear,
certain and nonnegotiable way. They treat every user as a potential
developer or distributor of the software, by allowing everyone to use it,
study how it works, share it with others, and improve it according to
one's needs. FRAND, on the other hand, neutralises such collaborative
environment as it impedes the freedoms granted by Free Software.</p>
<p>Notably, there is no consensus on what 'actually' constitutes FRAND,
as in "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms. The terms are
usually negotiated and kept secret. The licence granted is non-transferable
and requires each implementer to seek an individual licence every time
the technology is to be re-used. <strong>As such, in addition to excluding
the whole Free Software sector from implementing technical specifications
FRAND licensing terms go against most of the core principles highlighted
in the draft revision.</strong></p>
<p>In particular:
<li><strong>Transparency and openness</strong> - by being negotiated in secret;</li>
<li><strong>Reusability</strong> - by hampering the idea of sharing with others their
interoperability solutions, concepts, frameworks, specifications, tools
and components, with its strict terms of acquiring an individual licence
for every re-use of the standard;</li>
<li><strong>Technological neutrality</strong> - by excluding the whole Free Software
sector from standardisation processes that consequently will result in a
bigger vendor lock-in. Additionally, open standards and Free Software
are seen as the most common counter-measure to the wide vendor lock-in
in the EU public sector<a class="fn" id="fnref4" href="#fn4">4</a>;</li>
<li><strong>Efficiency and effectiveness</strong> - by creating unnecessary burdens to all
stakeholders involved in bringing the better interoperability.</li></ul></p>
<p>In a recent FAQ<a class="fn" id="fnref5" href="#fn5">5</a>, the Commission
<p><em>"The Commission does not prescribe business models in the market, be
they built on open source, or on for-money licensing arrangements"</em></p>
<p>But business models are no longer the issue at hand, as the emerging
maturity of the Free Software (aka Open Source) market has shown.
By permitting FRAND arrangements for standard-essential patents (SEPs)
within the software market, the Commission is proscribing development
models based on Free Software by ensuring that implementation of certain
standards will always be disadvantageous for those choosing this approach.
This implicit proscription unreasonably advantages large multinationals
with substantial patent portfolios and restricts both market entry and
innovation by the smaller players inherent in most of the European market.
It allows dominant players from established markets where monetisation of
SEPs is the norm to unreasonably gain advantage in the internet software
market where restriction-free collaboration is the norm. In a word, it
encourages anti-trust.</p>
<p>In addition, it is important to highlight the recent
Statement by the the United Kingdom, Estonia, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland,
Latvia and Malta regarding the Council conclusions on the "Digital Single
Market Technologies and Public Services Modernisation" package that
focuses on the importance of the creation of Open Standards in regard to
software. The aforementioned member states ask the Commission to
"<em>acknowledge all appropriate open, transparent and broad consensus-based
models of standardisation used by industries across the Information
Technology and the Electronic Communications Technology sectors</em>".
According to the member states, only this will "<em>enable EU companies to
compete in local, regional and global markets on equal terms, where their
innovative solutions can create new markets and jobs</em>".<a class="fn" id="fnref6" href="#fn6">6</a></p>
<p>It is notable that several member states issuing this statement, are
the most advanced in delivering the interoperable services and solutions
to their businesses and citizens (e.g. according to the Report, Estonia's
NIF is one of the most mature in the EU, with the EIF alignment score of
100%), and as such, their concerns need to be heard. Additionally, the
majority of these countries have a strong preference towards Open Standards
and Free Software in their national NIF which is a hard proof of the
positive interrelation between two.</p>
<blockquote><p><strong>Recommendation:</strong></p><p>It is absolutely
essential to ensure that no unnecessary and disproportionate barriers are
created on the EU level, including by harmful FRAND licensing.</p></blockquote>
<h2 id="conclusion">Conclusion</h2>
<p>In conclusion, the draft revision lacks the understanding of national
success stories, and of the barriers some of its points can create to
achieve better interoperability that in the end will result in even more
disparities between member states.</p>
<p>In particular, while the draft promotes "open specifications", the
harmonised use of certain models and tools (e.g. EIRA), it can hamper
its core principles with the inclusion of FRAND licensing terms, and
abandoning the principle of "openness": the idea of collaborative efforts
and a common innovative space.</p>
<p>It also completely disregards the obvious correlation between strong
promotion of Free Software and higher interoperability which is evident
from several NIF across Europe</p>
<p>In order to overcome these shortcomings, the EIF needs to learn from
the best and promote solutions that have been proved successful. In particular:
<li>The promotion of open specifications cannot be hampered by FRAND
licensing terms;</li>
<li>The idea of openness, as in collaborative innovation, should be
reintroduced as the core principle of the EIF;</li>
<li>Free Software which is a key enabler of interoperability need to be
acknowledged and promoted at least as a reference implementation of
technical standards.</li></ul>
<h2 id="fn">Footnotes</h2>
<li id="fn1">Roberto Gatti et al., <a href="">State of Play of Interoperability in Europe - Report 2014"</a>, A study prepared for the European Commission, 2015. <a href="#fnref1"></a></li>
<li id="fn2">See <a href="/freesoftware/standards/why-frand-is-bad-for-free-software.html">FSFE's analysis on FRAND</a>.<a href="#fnref2"></a></li>
<li id="fn3">European Commission, Staff Working Document <a href="">"Guide for the procurement of standards-based ICT — Elements of Good Practice"</a>, SWD(2013) 224 final, 25/06/2013. <a href="#fnref3"></a></li>
<li id="fn4">Giovanna Galasso et al., <a href="">"Study on best practices for ICT procurement based on standards in order to promote efficiency and reduce lock-in"</a>. A study prepared for the European Commission DG Communications Networks, Content &amp; Technology, 2016.<a href="#fnref4"></a></li>
<li id="fn5">European Commission - Fact Sheet on <a href="">"Commission takes steps to modernise EU's standardisation policy"</a>, 1/06/2016. <a href="#fnref5"></a></li>
<li id="fn6">Permanent Representatives Committee (Part 1), <a href="">Draft Council conclusions on the "Digital Single Market Technologies and Public Services Modernisation" package - Statement by the United Kingdom, Estonia, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland, Latvia and Malta</a>, 8735/16 ADD 1, 26/05/2016.<a href="#fnref6"></a></li>
<sidebar promo="open-standards">
<h2>Table of Contents</h2>
<li><a href="#introduction">Introduction</a></li>
<li><a href="#the-purpose-and-legal-framework-of-the-eif">The purpose and legal framework of the EIF</a></li>
<li><a href="#underlying-principles-of-european-public-services">Underlying principles of European Public Services</a></li>
<li><a href="#the-conceptual-model-for-integrated-public-services">The conceptual model for integrated public services provision</a></li>
<li><a href="#interoperability-layers">Interoperability layers</a></li>
<li style="padding-left:10px;"><a href="#reference-architectures">Reference Architectures</a></li>
<li style="padding-left:20px;"><a href="#open-specifications">Open specifications</a></li>
<li style="padding-left:20px;"><a href="#frand">FRAND</a></li>
<li><a href="#conclusion">Conclusion</a></li>
<h2>Related links</h2>
<a href="">Comments on the Digital Single Market strategy (pdf)</a>
<tag key="policy">Policy</tag>