On 30 November 2020, Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Isabella Tovaglieri of the Identity and Democracy Group posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“In order to make the work of government departments and their relations with citizens effective, as well as increasing transparency, a wide-ranging re-use and interoperability of public sector information needs to be allowed – a principle that has already been set out in Directive 2003/98/EC.
It is therefore astonishing that, in its latest major software tender, the Italian public procurement centre ‘Consip’ preferred not to opt for open-source systems; this choice does not facilitate the re-use and interoperability of public sector information. Moreover, it was made at an off-market price, without directly contacting the original software manufacturer. In addition, non-open-source systems purchased through the tender would create burdensome constraints for the future, influencing subsequent options available to Italian government departments.
Can the Commission say whether:
it is aware of this choice made by Consip;
this decision to purchase non-open-source software does not run counter to the principle of re-use and interoperability of data, a principle that has already existed in EU law since Directive 2003/98 and subsequent amendments?”
On 3 February 2021, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “The directive 2003/98/EC seeks Member States to ensure the re-use of documents held by public sector bodies for commercial or non-commercial purposes. In the context of this directive, ‘document’ means any content (including sound, visual or audiovisual) or part of this content whatever its medium.
However, the definition of ‘document’ is not intended to cover computer programmes. Member States may extend the application of the directive to software. The directive does not constrain purchasing decisions in the IT field. Therefore, the Commission has no competence to intervene as regards the facts mentioned in the question based on Directive 2003/98/EC.
The Commission shares the Honourable Member’s view on the need of a wide-ranging re-use and interoperability of public sector information and would like to refer the Honourable Member to the Commission’s Open Source Software Strategy 2020-2023 Think Open. This is an important step towards achieving the goals of the overarching Digital Strategy and contributing to the Digital Europe programme.
A key objective of the strategy is the encouragement of sharing and reuse of software and applications, data, information and knowledge. The Commission will undertake actions to achieve the goals of the strategy, e.g., creating open source innovation labs, removing the administrative burden for publication of software as open source, developing open source software skills, recruiting talent and increasing community outreach.
The Commission has not been approached by CONSIP, which was not required. The Commission would like to underline that the eTendering software market is still dominated by proprietary software, and in many cases there are not open software solutions available.”
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