The European Commission has published its long-awaited interoperability framework for public services, recommending that open standards be given preference over proprietary alternatives where possible.
The new European Interoperability Framework (EIF), released on Thursday, includes a recommendation that, "when establishing European public services, public administrations should prefer open specifications, taking due account of the coverage of functional needs, maturity and market support".
The Commission's stance goes some way to defying the advice of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which had claimed a preference for open specifications would "undermine the innovativeness of European standards".
"If the openness principle is applied in full," the framework document reads, "all stakeholders have the same possibility of contributing to the development of the specification and public review is part of the decision-making process; the specification is available for everybody to study; [and] intellectual property rights related to the specification are licensed on FRAND terms or on a royalty-free basis in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software."
Open specs should be favoured due to their "positive effect on interoperability", the document states. However, it adds, "public administrations may decide to use less open specifications, if open specifications do not exist or do not meet functional interoperability needs".
In a statement, the Commission suggested that the EIF took a balanced approach to proprietary and open-source rivals. "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," it said.
The open source advocacy group Openforum Europe — whose members include Google, IBM, Oracle and Red Hat — welcomed the recommendation for open specifications. "EIF will help public authorities escape from the sort of technology lock-in into one single vendor that until now has been the norm across Europe," chief executive Graham Taylor said in a statement.
Taylor added that, while his group was "broadly happy with the compromise text", the document lacks some of the practical guidance found in earlier drafts. "This may make it too easy for government agencies to dodge making the sort of interoperable systems the Commission wants to see," he said.