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Brussels, 24 October 2001

Unleashing the economic potential of Europe's public sector information for future development of European Content

On the 23rd of October the European Commission adopted a Communication aiming to improve the exploitation of public sector information throughout Europe. The purpose is to remove the many barriers content companies are facing trying to develop the next generation of cross-border information services and products based on public sector information. The overall aim is to put these European companies on an equal footing with companies in other markets such as the US, where simpler access and re-use regimes have led to a market up to five times larger than that in Europe. While the Communication comprises a set of European-level measures to facilitate the re-use of government information resources, the Commission is also considering to ease the existing barriers through a directive.

Public sector bodies are the holders of vast resources of information on many different areas of activity which are crucial for the creation of European content in the future. Examples include financial information, geographic information and tourist information - all collected by government bodies or agencies in the course of their work. This information could be an enormously rich raw material for new information products and services. At the moment, however, this potential is not realised due to a number of legal and practical barriers.

In particular, the establishment of cross-border information products and services is hampered by the different rules and practices existing in the Member States in relation to exploiting this information. Different national strategies - or lack of strategies - concerning pricing issues, replying times, exclusive arrangements and the general availability for information re-use have created complex and expensive barriers to the cross-border use of public sector information.

"There clearly is a growing need for cross-border information products and content a trend which will be strengthened by the move towards mobile content services," says Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for the Information Society. "But any European company trying to create a Europe-wide product will encounter different approaches to the question of re-use in every single country - even within the countries. This makes it very difficult to create a product that covers several countries, let alone the whole of the EU."

Furthermore there are a number of barriers of a more practical nature that do not depend on the administrative rules and behaviour of the public sector bodies, such as the inconsistency in data formats between countries and the issue of different languages.

The situation in Europe creates a competitive disadvantage for European firms in comparison to their American counterparts. The clear and consistent framework for the re-use of public sector information in the US has led to a market based on public sector information that is estimated to be up to five times larger than the European market. A clearer and more user-friendly public sector information regime in Europe would therefore create many new opportunities for European businesses and stimulate the establishment of cross-border information products.

The European Commission is therefore suggesting a series of actions to tackle these practical and legal barriers. The proposed actions leave the question of access regulation to the national bodies and do not require any changes to the principles of personal data protection. They cover instead activities as diverse as financially supporting trans-border projects and exchanging best practice models between administrations.

Furthermore, the Commission is considering proposing a Directive aiming to establish a general right to re-use principle, necessary to provide a clear answer to the pan-European nature of the information products and services. This Directive could also cover issues varying from fair trading to the pricing of the information and response times.

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