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Green Paper wants access to Public-Sector Information

The European Commission has published a Green Paper on how the information gathered by government departments and other public bodies can be used to provide the greatest benefit for citizens and businesses around Europe. This Green Paper, drawn up by Commissioner Martin Bangem...
The European Commission has published a Green Paper on how the information gathered by government departments and other public bodies can be used to provide the greatest benefit for citizens and businesses around Europe. This Green Paper, drawn up by Commissioner Martin Bangemann, is a result of a consultation process, which started in June 1996.

The Commission says there is a lot of information out there, which could be used by the multimedia industry for developing new products and services. European citizens could make better use of their rights about for example, working conditions. The competitiveness of businesses could be increased, if they had a quick and easy way of finding out what the regulations and procedures are for exporting to other countries.

According to the Green Paper, all this information already exists, but the technical and legal procedures and terms under which the Member States make it available are uncoordinated and therefore not very transparent for citizens and businesses.

The USA's "Freedom of Information Act", established in 1966, is used in the Green Paper as a good example where the public bodies have granted access, free of charge or for a small fee, to powerful, highly-developed information systems. In comparison, European Industry is at a disadvantage, even though EU Member States are beginning to follow the American example.

However, the Green Paper does not suggest that EU Member States should gather or publish more information. The difference would be that existing information should be available for use on more transparent and simpler terms. This would require technical and administrative arrangements as well as political solutions.

In the Commission's view, a contribution at European level to finding these solutions could come from:

- Discussions on whether legislative measures, recommendations, guidelines or other binding regulations would be of use;
- Organising a Europe-wide exchange of experience;
- Measures to inform citizens, businesses and administrative departments about existing sources of information;
- Demonstration and pilot projects for testing new technologies, new information services and new models for private/publish partnerships;
- Education and training measures.

To get the discussions going, the Green Paper puts a number of questions, including:

- How should the concept of "public sector information" best be defined?
- What new barriers are created at European level by the fact that the conditions for access to this information differ from one Member State to another? What solutions are available?
- Could the establishment of a European directory of the information that is available be of help of European citizens and businesses? How could this best be carried out? What categories of content should such directories contain?
- What are the consequences of the fact that the Member States have different pricing policies for information of this kind?
- Can the use of information provided by public-sector bodies lead to unfair competition?
- What are the copyright, data-protection and liability implications?

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