A petition for the use of open standards in the EU bodies was launched some time ago and got support of many European citizens who want discrimination-free access to public online services.
This weeks conference in the European Parliament featured many speakers who provided first hand insights how to break free from vendor lock-in. The conference was very well attended.
Participatory democracy relies increasingly on the ability of citizens and stakeholders to access public information and to communicate with officials and elected politicians electronically. The conference looks at the situation where public institutions are locked into the ICT products of a single vendor, discusses the implications of this for participative democracy and fair competition, and considered the prospects for the European Parliament to adopt the use of open standards and open source software and to promote interoperability in the European ICT sector.
Prof. Luc Soete from the United Nations University Maastricht explained the economical aspects of vendor lock-ins and the need to apply a strategic approach to overcome dependencies.
Anne-Catherine Lorrain (TACD) explained the full support of consumer organisations on both sides of the Atlantic for an open standards agenda.
Alberto Barrionuevo, the president of the FFII, believes it is a right of citizens to communicate with their government using electronic means, without discrimination regarding their choice of software solutions. He derives it as a democratic right from the constitutional requirements transferred to the digital age. Societal change lead to changes of requirements for public administration. He explicitely conducted his speech in Spanish. In Spain a promising law was adopted for eGovernment that also features a definition of open standards.
MEP Margrete Aucken suggested a more aggressive approach. She feels Microsoft as a "monster" taking control of public software and urged participants to take the steps to break free from this particular vendor. She contrasts the call for open standards in public government with the aim to fence off a vendor that openly combats open standards. However, the whole lock-in of EU institutions extends to more than Microsoft and includes products as Adobe ColdFusion.
Rolf Schuster, as an IT strategist from the German Foreign office, stressed the interests of public administration to reduce costs. The German Foreign office took a strategic approach to both modernise its IT infrastructure and build it on an open standards and open source stack. He presented a IT per seat cost comparison (p.7) with other German federal administrations that demonstrated that the strategic approach of the German Foreign Office really pays off. Participants asked why the success model is not adopted by other administrations in Germany.
Benoit Müller from the Business Software Alliance intervened against Open Standards. The lobbyist claimed there was a German definition that permitted patent licensing conditions under "reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms.
Martin Mollema explained the Dutch plan Netherlands in Open Connections, the current European poster child of governmental activities in the field.
Graham Taylor from Openforum Europe who co-organised the conference and is the mastermind behind the OpenParliament petition stressed the gain of freedom. In particular he highlighted the 'Freedom to leave' as the essential aspect. Lock-ins restrict that freedom and increase the costs for the tax payers.
Erik Josefsson made a point of order and asked particular speakers to disclose their affiliations.
Benjamin Henrion, the founder of the <no>OOXML campaign expressed his concerns regarding the HTML5 process and the inclusion of multimedia standards covered by exclusive rights. The use of patented multimedia formats by EU audiovisual services has been a concern of citizens who use the Linux operating system before.
Many participants and speakers referenced to the OOXML standardisation process, in particular were intrigued by the French AFNOR developments. Generally speakers feel concerned about OOXML to become a standard in governmental procurement. In private a government delegate compared Microsoft's public affairs methods with the scientology cult.