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Brussels, 16 December 2010

Commission adopts Interoperability Strategy and Framework for public services - frequently asked questions

Why a specific Communication on Interoperability? What is the relationship between these documents and the Digital Agenda for Europe?

The need for effective interoperability is at the centre of the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200), one of the flagship initiatives in the Europe 2020 Strategy. In the case of public administrations effective interoperability is vital to ensuring that they can provide efficient, effective cross-border eGovernment services, as reflected in the eGovernment Action Plan just adopted by the Commission (see IP/10/1718). As part of the Digital Agenda and the eGovernment Action Plan, the Commission committed itself to adopt in 2010 a Communication that introduces the European Interoperability Strategy (EIS) and the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), two key documents to focus our efforts and work via a common approach to achieve better interoperability for European public services. They complement the Digital Agenda for Europe in establishing a common approach for Member States’ public administrations, to help citizens and businesses to profit fully from the single market.

Why is the Commission adopting these documents through a communication?

The European Union has no competencies in the area of public administration organisation and the provision of public services. But via this communication, the Commission acts as a driver, fostering modernisation of public services throughout Europe and as a facilitator, assisting Member States to coordinate their efforts in that domain.

How will the European Parliament and/or the Council react to this communication? What are the Commission's expectations there?

The Commission is confident that both the European Parliament and the EU's Council of Ministers will welcome those documents, as they have been elaborated in a very close collaboration with Member States and represent a common and shared approach to interoperability in Europe. A cross-border interoperability strategy and associated framework have never been attempted on such a scale before, so it will be crucial to involve all stakeholders to ensure success.

What is expected from Member States as a result of this communication?

Member States and the Commission must act together to implement the EIS, taking into account the EIF, through Digital Agenda actions, to help realise the full potential of the digital single market. The European Commission invites Member States to continue to work together to ensure that their efforts to achieve interoperability for public services are aligned with the EIS and the EIF. The Commission also invites Member States to take into account the European dimension at an early stage in the development of any public service that might become part of European Public Services in the future.

How will the Commission implement the EIS and apply the EIF internally for its own IT systems?

Leading by example, the Commission will align its internal strategy with the EIS through the eCommission 2011-2015 initiative where interoperability is one of its guiding principles. The Commission will also ensure that the EIF is applied when implementing systems to support new legislation and establishing new European public services.

Questions related to the EIF, open standards, open specifications

The EIF introduces the notion of “formalised specification”. How do “formalised specifications” relate to “standards”?

The word “standard” has a specific meaning in Europe as defined by Directive 98/34/EC. Only technical specifications approved by a recognised standardisation body can be called a standard. Many ICT systems rely on the use of specifications developed by other organisations such as a forum or consortium. The EIF introduces the notion of “formalised specification”, which is either a standard pursuant to Directive 98/34/EC or a specification established by ICT fora and consortia. The term “open specification” used in the EIF, on the one hand, avoids terminological confusion with the Directive and, on the other, states the main features that comply with the basic principle of openness laid down in the EIF for European Public Services.

It has taken more than two years to prepare the EIF. Why?

Interest in the elaboration of the EIF proves that it was a much needed document. Three elements had to be balanced, which resulted in a lengthier than expected process:

  • Input from all stakeholders had to be taken into consideration – more than 50 comments were received from the public consultation alone and many organisations continued to provide input even after the public consultation period was over;

  • The flagship initiative “Digital Agenda for Europe” gave interoperability a much needed boost;

  • The EIF had to be aligned with a number of other initiatives such as the upcoming revision of the ICT standardisation legislation and the approval of the ISA Programme. At the same time, it has been the subject of an important coordination work with other Commission services and Member States.

The EIF introduces the conceptual model for public services, what is the goal of such model?

This is one of the main novelties and an essential element of the new EIF. That model illustrates that a European public service is a combination of existing public services provided at different levels of government and shows where interoperability is needed in such a complex environment.

What does the EIF says about the relation between open specifications and open source software?

The EIF introduces, as one of the characteristics of an open specification, the requirement that IPRs related to the specification have to be licensed on FRAND terms or on a royalty-free basis in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software. In this way, companies working under various business models can compete on an equal footing when providing solutions to public administrations while administrations that implement the standard in their own software (software that they own) can share such software with others under an open source licence if they so decide.

Why was there so much interest around the EIF?

Some Member States have begun to adopt policies to achieve interoperability for their public services. These actions have had a significant impact on the ecosystem built around the provision of such services, e.g. providers of ICT goods and services, standardisation bodies, industry fora and consortia, etc... The Commission identified a clear need for action at European level to ensure that actions by individual Member States would not create new electronic barriers that would hinder the development of interoperable European public services. As a result, all stakeholders involved in the delivery of electronic public services in Europe have expressed their opinions on how to increase interoperability for public services provided by the different public administrations in Europe.

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