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Public hearing on the Green Paper on Public Sector Information in the Information Society

Brussels, 25 May 1999, 10h00-16h30

a) Introduction

Opening the public hearing at 10h00, the chairman, Mr de Bruïne (Director DG XIII-E of Directorate-General XIII "Information Society: Telecommunications, Markets, Technologies - Innovation and Exploitation of Research"), welcomed the participants ( list of attendees attached as Annex 1), informing them on the agenda (attached as Annex 2) and structure of the meeting and some procedural issues. On the Commission's side, were also present representatives of DG III ( Ms. Pedersen and Mr. Zimmermann ), DG X ( Ms. Gutierrez ), DG XIII-A ( Mr Papapavlou ), DG XV ( Ms. Sottong-Micas ) and the Office for Official Publications ( Mr Mointhino ) and of the Secretariat-General.

Mr de Bruïne explained the objectives of this meeting: (1) to enhance the number of written replies to the Green Paper (to be send in by 1 June 1999 ultimately( 1 )), (2) provide a platform allowing people to express their views on the issues raised in the Green Paper, and (3) explore possible areas of follow up actions. He stressed that this meeting should be seen within a broad consultation process on the Green Paper, inter alia referring to the presentations given in most of the Member States by Commission representatives. Additionally, he pointed out that many of the issues addressed in the Green Paper are not new and some of them will need to be catered for at national, regional or even local level. In this context he requested the meeting to focus today's debate on the issues with an EU dimension.

b) Session I: Public Sector Information - addressing citizens needs

Mr. Bischoff (DG XIII) gave an introduction on the first theme of the meeting: addressing citizens' needs. He touched upon (1) the right of access and right to receive public sector information ("PSI") and the need for services to be provided by the private sector, (2) possible difficulties (such as meeting the requirements set by the Information Society) and the questions pertaining thereto (as detailed in the Green Paper). Subsequently, the floor was opened for comments.

Mr Cadell (National Archives of Scotland) drew attention to a number of practical problems and in particular the conservation problems that new technologies bring about. He stressed the need for concerted international action in this area, highlighting possible pitfalls, such as different cultural and administrative traditions.

Ms Stacino (National Geographic Institute - Belgium) stated that access to specific types of PSI (such as geographic information) will need to have its price, allowing to ensure quality and continuity of provision of products and services. She stressed that any comparison between Europe and the US should take into account the superior quality of the data in Europe.

Mr Waters (Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations) highlighted the main points of the Dutch reaction to the Green Paper already submitted. He explained that several distinctions need to be made, in particular: (1) information essential for the functioning of a democratic state and information of administrative bodies and (2) access right, which is 'public law driven', and the right to use information, which is 'private law driven'. In this context, he stressed that many of the issues touched upon in the Green Paper are in fact national problems, forcing member states to reconsider their national policies in this area. He advocated the Commission taking a stimulating and facilitating role in (e.g. in the area of research, provision of sets of definitions) in respect of the problems encountered in the various member states and to ensure dissemination of results and best practise.

Ms Hampton (European Organisation of Journalists) brought up the fundamental point that the European policy should be kept in phase with the relevant provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty: transparency of the public sector needs to be maximised. Additionally, she stressed that prices charged to the public should not exceed the costprice. She invited the Commission to set the right examples for the Member States.

Ms Boulanger (Commission de la Protection de la Vie Privée, Belgique) made a brief presentation of the opinion prepared by the Working Party set up by Article 29 of EC/95/46 Directive on data protection (Data protection commissioners). This document raised 8 points in the area of data protection that will need to be taken into consideration, such as: the need to raise awareness for the issue of data protection, sound appliance of the data protection principles and the technical possibilities already available to safeguard protection. She called upon the Commission to address the need for a balanced approach in respect of access and data protection.

Ms Pedersen (DG III) highlighted some of the work undertaken in the Information Society Forum, in particular in respect of the notion of 'vital information'. She put this concept in the context of universal service, as known within the telecom sector, and underpinned the importance of affordability of access to PSI.

Mr Vanpée (Belgian Association for Documentation) felt that the Green Paper puts too much emphasis on the possible economic benefits of (exploitation of) PSI. He stressed the importance of taking into account the needs of users (e.g. in the area of education and data protection) and the importance of general access.

Mr Michel (Sema Group) also urged the Commission to look at some specific consumer issues. He argued that effort needs to be put into making PSI more structured and understandable, since without meeting these prerequisites, the increased amount of PSI available on-line will hardly be useful to citizens.

Mr Dinesen (Danish Ministry of Education) requested the Commission to be cautious in terms of proposing harmonising measures, in view of the delicate constitutional and political aspects of PSI within the various member states. He felt that no European rules are needed if national rules are sufficient, in particular, in the event that these rules need to be close to the citizens.

Mr Corbin (Association for Geographic Information) stressed the need for standards, in particular in the area of geographic information, being the basis of many types of PSI. He indicated that 80% of PSI is based on geographic information. Some types of PSI should always be free.

After highlighting the main points of the interventions made (basic principle of access, possibly extended to some form of universal service, and the practical implications thereof (pricing, standards, quality, importance user perspective)), Mr de Bruïne gave the floor to Mr Hoff (DG XIII) .

c) Session II: Public Sector Information - The importance for European Business

Introducing this session, Mr Hoff laid a series of questions on the table in order to initiate the discussion, such as (1) do businesses need a right of access?, (2) to price or not to price?, (3) what is PSI? and (4) is there a need for categorisation of PSI?

Mr Tempest (Federation of European Direct Marketing) stressed that industry fully endorses the application of data protection rules. In respect of pricing, he warned that public sector bodies are tempted (1) to apply unrealistic pricing principles, and (2) to monopolise information held. He advocated prompt Commission action.

Mr Delcroix (European Information Industry Association) advocated (1) an exact definition of PSI, and subsequently, (2) the appliance of economic principles to the exploitation of PSI, drawing an analogy with the developments in the telecom sector.

Ms Morris (European Info Centres) summarised the conclusions that were drawn after a consultation round amongst its members (small enterprises) in respect of questions 9 (openness of European institutions) and 10 (possible areas for European action) of the Green Paper. As regards question 9 she mentioned inter alia: (1) only specific EU sources are useful, (2) there is considerable duplication between EU sources (3) too much information makes information unfindable; navigation tools are desperately needed (4) timing and updating of information is essential As regards question 10, the following conclusions were drawn: (1) training and education initiatives are essential, (2) EU agreement on pricing issues is essential and (3) in respect of possible actions, a distinction between various categories of PSI is needed. The importance of the language issue was also mentioned.

Mr C. Clark (Federation of European Publishers) stressing the need for metadata, introduced the term 'needle-in-the-haystack-function', that should be taken by the Commission, since at present there is a situation where citizens are over-informed and under-guided. Additionally, he urged the public sector not to compete with the private sector, but instead, to co-operate as much as possible.

Mr Leonard (European National mapping Agencies (CERCO)) advocated to stop the attempts to define PSI, and, instead, to focus on improved information management by the government. The basic question to be asked is: is this information of potential value to citizens, business or government itself. In respect of pricing issues he suggested that the Commission might have bitten off more than it may be able to chew.

Mr Meriggiola (Electronic Documentation Centre of the Italian Supreme Court) provided details on the initiatives undertaken in Italy and some of the problems encountered (e.g. copyright and pricing policies). Payment should just be asked for services with an added value.

Mr Stephens (International Communications Round Table) stressed the need for urgent EU action, especially in view of the competitive advantages US companies - most US PSI is made available free of charge - have over Europe. He expressed his fear that establishing follow up actions may turn out to be quite time consuming.

Mr Corbin (Association for Geographic Information) supported a data-led approach (instead of focussing on definitions), and the creation of one-stop-shops in particular in view of SMEs' needs.

Mr Salgé (French National Geographic Institute) emphasised that in the US only PSI of the Federal government is provided free of charge. Transposing this to the European situation he wondered who is going to fund PSI, in case the user can not be charged. Additionally, he called upon the Commission to support and co-ordinate the set up of one-stop-shops.

Mr Korhonen (Finnish Ministry of Finance) expressed the view that charging marketprices has allowed the Finnish public sector to provide high quality products and services.

Mr Waters (Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations) highlighted the main conclusions of a survey carried out in the Netherlands recently in respect of the use of PSI databases, and, simultaneously, requested industry to prove its need for such databases.

Mr Dinesen (Danish Ministry of Education) touched upon the critical issues that emerge in case a public body is privatised, indicating that access rules should maintain to apply. Also he mentioned that some changes need to be made in respect of the description of the Danish situation in the Green Paper.

Concluding that the debate had been vivid and that a wide range of views had been expressed, mirroring the various interests at stake, Mr de Bruïne broke for lunch.

d) Session III: The Public Sector in the Information Society - Will it ever be the same again?

Before allowing Mr Volman (DG XIII) to give an introductory presentation on the third session, Mr de Bruïne gave the floor to Mr Zimmermann (DG III) who provided details on the (second) IDA Programme. He explained that within the public sector IDA envisages to: (1) set up a PSI infrastructure, (2) making it interoperable and (3) harmonising the contents exchanged. So far approximately 30 applications have been developed.

Subsequently, Mr Volman initiated the discussion in respect of the third session, touching upon a few implications the Information Society will have on the functioning of the public sector (reorganisation of the way information is dealt with and managed, risks involved, perspective of consumers).

Mr Waters (Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations) supported the view that the Information Society will have an enormous impact on the public sector and he stressed that a change of culture is needed to address the challenges faced. He urged governments to maximise the availability of electronic information and databases on the Internet. He also stressed the divergent quality of the different sites of the Directorates General of the Commission and urged the EU institutions to stop claiming copyrights on their sites.

Mr du Marais (French Delegation - planning Commission) provided details on the work undertaken within the French planning Commission. He stressed that even within this national group it was very hard to reach consensus on a number of issues also addressed in the Green Paper, indicating the difficult task the Commission will have.

Mr Wagner (Austrian Federation for Information Industry) listed a number of prerequisites that are of importance in the context of this subject, such as: availability, accessibility, transparency, reliability, authenticity, fair competition. Additionally, he mentioned some areas that should be taken into account in respect of the further work undertaken: archiving, division of labour, financing and quality of PSI. He underlined that Switzerland, a non-EU- member, is actually one of the few countries that has conformed to the 1989 guidelines on the access to PSI.

Mr Corbin (Association for Geographic Information) stated that pricing of information has a direct link with quality and accessibility. Additionally, he urged the Commission to maximise the awareness to be raised and to show itself and act swiftly. He also indicated that any public service made available should include a feedback element.

Ms Palmirani (Gruppo Formula SpA) gave details on experiences encountered in the process of creating a repository of tourist information. She stressed the need for a common framework for the integration of data. She also indicated that in many cases the public sector does not have the necessary expertise.

Mr Meriggiola (Electronic Documentation Centre of the Italian Supreme Court) underlined the importance of question 8 of the Green Paper: liability. He stated that there needs to be a possibility to hold public sector bodies liable (under civil law) for information produced, as it is the case in the 'paper world'.

Mr Wijsman (Dutch Ministry of General Affairs) pointed out that the Information Society will have profound impact on the public sector in a number of areas, such as: organisation of the body (new important positions will emerge), training of employees, disappearance of monopolies on PSI. He indicated that the citizen is not always on the defensive side: sometimes he/she is much better informed than the civil servants.

Mr Vanpée (Belgian Association for Documentation) touched upon the phenomena of dematerialization and decontextualisation and the challenges faced. He stressed the enormous importance of education and training of users, such as civil servants.

Mr Cadell (National Archives of Scotland) stressed that in the area of archiving of documents decisions are demanded, preferably at European level. In this respect he suggested that the Commission work together with a working group within the Council of Europe also dealing with this area at present.

Ms Hampton (European Oranisation of Journalists) pointed out that there is a need to better organise the information on the websites of the EU and in particular the news items.

Session IV : The Public Sector in the Information Society - What are the Priority actions for the EU

Mr Corbin (Association for Geographic Information) referred to the concerns of AGI at the slow progress made on the GI2000 proposal and hopes that the green paper will not follow the same route towards implementation. Priority actions should aim at raising awareness and assessing the real barriers. Ensuring that at the European level public sector information is accessible to all in the EU should set the example.

Mr C. Clark (Federation of European Publishers) endorsed the earlier point of Mr. Cadell and stated that in this respect one should not rely on the content provider. Libraries and in particular learning societies seem more fit to address the issues related to archiving. In addition Mr Clark urged the Commission to come up with binding measures (a Directive) since he expects that this will short-circuit all discussions that have been going on for more than 10 years now. This view was supported by Mr Stephens (International Communications Round Table) and Mr Sangiorgi (Studio Legale S.A.) , advocating the use of the 'Scandinavian model'.

Mr Dinesen (Danish Ministry of Education) advocated a step by step (and sector by sector) approach, opposing the idea of hard harmonisation initiatives. Instead he stressed the importance of education of users.

Mr Owen (Library and Information Commission) mentioned a number of key principles that will need to be applied to identify the priorities for action: (1) a distinction needs to be made between freedom of information and citizenship information, (2) any outcome should not be bureaucratic, but instead, demand-driven and event-centred, (3) the quality of indexing and navigation is crucial, (4) mapping information needs to be made available via mediated access (e.g. libraries, town halls, postoffices), and (5) vital information needs to be made available for free, since marginal costs for reproduction will decrease to zero.

Mr Waters (Dutch Ministry of internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations) also summarised a number of priorities: (1) access to democratic information needs to be free (2) the Commission needs to stimulate studies in Member States on the impact of public law on access to PSI and private law on (re)use of PSI, (3) clear definitions and (4) the Commission needs to set and disseminate examples of good practises.

Mr Salgé (French National Geographic Institute) stressed the importance to make a distinction between use and source of PSI. He expressed that in his view the Green Paper is too heavily focused on issues as pricing and tools, whereas it should focus on the deeper policy issues, such as objectives of access and exploitation. Additionally, he stated that the distinction between governmental and non-governmental information is fundamental to the discussion and that it should be looked into in great detail.

Mr Vandebrink (European Meteorological Services) pointed out that in the meteorological sector frameworks have already been developed to address some of the issues mentioned in the Green Paper (use of information in other countries, commercial (re)use). He stressed that the Commission has played an active role in the area of working out an agreement acceptable to all parties involved.

Ms Johnson (Library & Information Commission) requested the Commission to pay attention to those people that are not able to afford PSI or who are physically not capable to take account of PSI. She also stressed the importance of real user involvement in the process of further actions.

Mr Chenez (EUROGI) requested the Commission to consider what (additional) political pressure will be needed to speed up the process, allowing groups and organisations to create such pressure.

Mr Willey (Ordnance Survey) advocated a non-isolated and non-blunt EU approach, highly interactive with all member states, e.g. in the area of pricing. In this respect he stressed the importance of distinguishing between various categories of PSI.

Mr Alberdink Thijm (Institute for Information Law - University of Amsterdam) urged the Commission to ensure that any future action will be in phase with other initiatives undertaken by the Commission such as the draft E-commerce Directive and the draft Copyright Directive.

Mr Callinan (Prime Minister's Department - Ireland) gave some details on the culture change taking place in Ireland as a result of the recent enactment of the Irish Freedom of Information Act. Furthermore, he stressed that the Commission is uniquely placed to move this matter forward significantly, and to stimulate this change of culture within the Union.

Mr Vanpée (Belgian Association for Documentation) warned against a sectoral approach. Again he stressed the importance of putting people first, focussing on their specific needs.

Ms Ahano (Dun and Bradstreet Europe) stressed that a number of barriers exist in Europe that prevent firms to exploit PSI. She pointed out that in the area of company information to be provided under national laws, legislative Commission action is needed, leading to increased European competitiveness.

Thanking all participants for their active participation and their vivid debates Mr de Bruïne gave the floor to Mr Verrue (Director General DG XIII) .

f) Session IV: The Public Sector in the Information Society - Conclusions

Mr Verrue stressed the importance of the debate that has taken place on the Green Paper and its truly open character. He underlined the many complex interests at stake and the many players involved and the need for the Commission to focus on specific European aspects, being (1) exercise of rights granted under the European Treaty, (2) participation of citizens in the European integration process (3) stimulating the European information industry, and (4) advocating future member states to adopt the 'acquis communautaire' in this field. Indeed the topic of PSI seems to be particularly important for the countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, he stressed that the Commission is looking for reactions of a political nature, that will enable the Commission to take further action. In this context he drew a picture of the timeframe sought and the output expected. In the course of this year a synoptic communication is expected, highlighting the input received and providi ng details on (1) possible areas of action of common interest and (2) possible degrees of consensus for policitical orientations. Finally, he stressed once more the importance of member states' support.

Thanking Mr Verrue, Mr de Bruïne wrapped up the meeting. He expressed that in his view the objective of the meeting was met: an open debate, discussing a wide variety of issues in the areas concerned. He reminded the participants of the deadline set and invited all to submit their views in writing.

At 16h30 Mr de Bruïne closed the meeting.

(1) In this respect the chairman stated that comments that may arrive slightly overdue will, obviously, be taken into consideration as well. However, he urged all participants to submit their comments as soon as possible.


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