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Brussels, 5 June 2002

Commission proposes new Directive on exploitation of public sector information

The European Commission today presented a proposal for a Directive aiming to facilitate the re-use of public sector information throughout Europe. The aim is to lower the barriers which Europe's content companies face as they develop a new generation of information services and products based on public sector information. The result should decrease the gap between European companies and their counterparts in the US, where a single set of rules has helped stimulate a market several times larger than in the EU. "Better exploitation of public sector information will lead to increased activity and job creation in Europe's digital content industry, which is largely composed of SMEs," says Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for the Information Society. "It will also benefit the citizen, creating a range of added-value information products that the public sector itself cannot provide."

Public organisations collect and hold vast amounts of 'public sector information', ranging from financial and geographic data to tourist information. It is a potentially rich raw material for new information products and services, with an economic value in the European Union that is estimated at € 68 billion, comparable to industries such as legal services and printing.

There is a growing need for cross-border information products and content a trend which will be strengthened by the move towards mobile content services. Attractive public sector information applications may become a key element in driving this emerging and strategically important industry. While the market for European mobile content could become quite substantial, however, these services need to cover Europe consistently a service with large geographic gaps in it will not sell.

The potential of public sector information is not realised today due to a number of legal and practical barriers. Different rules and practices in the Member States concerning charges, response times, exclusive arrangements and the general availability of information for re-use make it extremely difficult for companies to create Europe-wide products. Legislative activities at national level are already under way in a number of Member States, but the differences between them in speed and direction may result in further restrictions.

Where differences in national regulations and practices hinder the smooth functioning of the Internal Market and the proper development of the Information Society in Europe, an initiative at EU level will have a considerable added-value. To achieve minimum harmonisation of the legal framework for the exploitation of public sector information, the Commission's proposed Directive - on the re-use and commercial exploitation of public sector documents - covers issues such as fair trading, charges and response times.

The proposed measures will create new opportunities for the content industry in Europe to exploit public sector information for value-added information products, particularly ones crossing Europe's internal frontiers. The increased certainty and transparency they bring will foster investment and innovation in the Information Society in Europe and reduce the competitive disadvantage European firms face in comparison with their US counterparts. Indeed, the clear and consistent framework for re-using public sector information in the US, by comparison, has produced a market up to five times larger than in the EU.

The resulting growth and improved competitiveness of Europe's digital content industry, finally, will translate into new services for tomorrow's communication platforms and a range of new benefits for consumers. The challenge for European industry is now to fully exploit this opportunity.

The proposal for a directive will be submitted to the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for adoption under the co-decision procedure.

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