[FSFE PR][EN] EU Open Source Policy: good analysis, missing concrete next steps

press at fsfe.org press at fsfe.org
Fri Oct 23 10:34:18 UTC 2020

 = EU Open Source Policy: good analysis, missing concrete next steps =

[ Read online: https://fsfe.org/news/2020/news-20201023-01.en.html ]

On Wednesday the EU Commission published its new Open Source Strategy.
We are pleased that the Commission recognises the benefits of Free
Software and the four freedoms to use, study, share and improve, but the
commission lacks concrete targets and indicators to implement the
strategy. Without these, we worry that the strategy will end up
accomplishing too little!

After the Commission's previous Open Source Strategy expired in 2017, we
have waited three years for a new one. Instead of the hoped-for major
step, which would reflect current developments around the debates on
digital sovereignty and state of the art administration, the Commission
has presented [1] only a fig leaf. The benefits of Free Software are
fully emphasised and the Commission is ambitious in its future use of
Free Software. But concrete goals are rare, and a clear commitment to
the use of Free Software is lacking. A failure of the strategy is
foreseeable at this stage as the objectives are ambitious but the
measures merely establish the status quo. Therefore, we call upon the
Commission to present and implement concrete measures and activities in
the coming weeks and months.

Apart from the establishment of a "small (sic!) Open Source Programme
Office” and the definition and promotion of the "inner source" approach,
which is not even connected to a publication under a Free Software
license, there are no real changes to the Commission's working methods.
Of course, the Strategy indeed states: "The title of this strategy,
‘Think Open’, points to a change in mindset whereby the development of
software solutions takes account of openness, sharing and reuse,
security, privacy, legal considerations and accessibility." But it is
doubtful whether anything will happen simply by clarifying the change in
thinking without having verifiable goals and by working on "inner-
source" software. We believe that changes have to be implemented and
lived, not just put on paper.

The strategy mainly repeats previous commitments and activities; whereas
sustainable and verifiable approaches are sought in vain. It says: "The
use of open source software is already common practice in the Commission
and a kind of open source culture already exists in large parts of the
organisation. We simply have to do more and become better". Concrete
terms of the plans for how to do this more and better are however not
clear. The activities of the FOSSA2 project are also mentioned, but it
is not clear why this project is not being continued or why new concrete
projects are not being launched. There are also still strong
dependencies on Microsoft [2], for its desktop operating system, office
applications and mail programs. These vendor lock-ins are still a big
issue, but it appears that there is no plan currently on how to end
these dependencies. (There is also a documentary on YouTube in English
[3] and German [4] on that)

It is also striking that concrete indicators to measure the success of
the activities are absent. The Strategy therefore seems to pay mere lip
service, which is explicitly limited by vague formulations and
loopholes. For example, the Commission intends to continue "to choose
non-open technologies where there are good reasons to do so" and wants
to publish software under a Free Software licence only "wherever it
makes sense to do so”. What these reasons are and when something makes
sense remains undefined and unclear.

In many places the Commission leaves it at problematic descriptions such
as: "The principles and actions of the new open source strategy will
make it easier to obtain permission to share code with the outside
world.". At the same time, it is clear to the Commission that
"[c]urrently, the paperwork involved in this process takes time to
complete and this holds back many of our in-house projects. This
situation needs to change." - without proposing concrete solutions, such
as a proposal for reforms.

This also raises the question of how the Commission wants to “contribute
to the knowledge society” in tangible terms. For example, instead of
calling for Free Software to be made the default in the Horizon Europe
research programme and following programmes and research activities
funded by the EU, the Commission argues that "[t]his strategy therefore
aims to enable the Commission to share software using a process
comparable to that for its documents.” - again without a concrete
proposal on how to achieve this.

Although the Commission's wording about interoperability, security,
reusability and cooperation possibilities repeatedly aims at the use of
Free Software and repeatedly emphasises the advantages of Free Software,
we feel that the Strategy lacks concrete plans to achieve these aims.
How the development of a “world-class public service" can succeed this
way remains questionable. Free Software is still not part of the EU
budget, so it is not surprising that Commission online-meetings are
still held with the proprietary software Zoom although there are viable
Free Software solutions for this. With this approach, we fear that this
situation will not improve.

 == Conclusion ==

What the European Commission presented is simply too little for a
strategy. There is a lack of clear task descriptions and processes,
concrete guidelines for the implementation of wholehearted statements
and indicators to monitor success. Additionally, existing problems and
how to address them concretely, like dependencies on single vendors, are
missing. So it is not surprising that even the Commission itself, in the
document, expresses doubts as to whether their strategy will be a
success and identifies difficulties in its implementation: "Properly
implemented (sic!), the strategy, its governing principles and its
action plan will help us build and deliver better ICT solutions and
services, to leverage the innovative and collaborative power of open

It is therefore all the more important that we continue to critically
monitor the work of the Commission and promote our "Public money? Public
Code!" campaign. The "Public Money? Public Code!" initiative aims to
establish Free Software as a standard for publicly funded software.
Public administrations that follow this principle can benefit from
numerous advantages: cooperation with other government bodies,
independence from individual vendors, potential tax savings, promotion
of innovation and a more solid basis for IT security.

The "Public Money? Public Code!" initiative of the Free Software
Foundation Europe is supported by over 180 organisations and
administrations from several countries, including Sweden, Spain and
Germany. To find out more, please visit: publiccode.eu/ [5]

Discuss this [6]

 1: https://ec.europa.eu/info/departments/informatics/open-source-software-strategy_en#opensourcesoftwarestrategy
 2: https://www.investigate-europe.eu/en/2017/europes-dire-dependency-on-microsoft/
 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duaYLW7LQvg
 4: https://youtu.be/_ZaDuinGf2o
 5: http://publiccode.eu
 6: https://community.fsfe.org/t/535/

  == About the Free Software Foundation Europe ==

  Free Software Foundation Europe is a charity that empowers users to
  control technology. Software is deeply involved in all aspects of our
  lives; and it is important that this technology empowers rather than
  restricts us. Free Software gives everybody the rights to use,
  understand, adapt and share software. These rights help support other
  fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, press and privacy.

  The FSFE helps individuals and organisations to understand how Free
  Software contributes to freedom, transparency, and self-determination.
  It enhances users' rights by abolishing barriers to Free Software
  adoption, encourage people to use and develop Free Software, and
  provide resources to enable everyone to further promote Free Software
  in Europe.


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