Sunday, 10 May 2009

European Union: Re-use of public sector information (PSI)

This concerns businesses, citizens and public bodies in the European Union.

The public sector collects, produces, reproduces and disseminates a wide range of information in many areas of activity, such as social, economic, geographical, weather, tourist, business, patent and educational information.

Digital content plays an important role in this evolution. Content production has given rise to rapid job creation in recent years and continues to do so. Most of these jobs are created in small emerging companies.

The evolution towards an information and knowledge society influences the life of every citizen in the Community, inter alia, by enabling them to gain new ways of accessing and acquiring knowledge.
One of the principal aims of the establishment of an internal market is the creation of conditions conducive to the development of Community-wide services. Public sector information is an important primary material for digital content products and services and will become an even more important content resource with the development of wireless content services. Broad cross-border
geographical coverage will also be essential in this context. Wider possibilities of re-using public sector information should inter alia allow European companies to exploit its potential and contribute to economic growth and job creation.


Public sector information

I have deliberately re-used public sector information, practically word for word, emanating from the European Union.

The source of this information is Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 November 2003 on the re-use of public sector information, published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 31.12.2003 L 345/90; there seem to be no amendments.

But as we saw, public sector information (PSI) comes in many shapes and sizes besides legal documents, and many of them can potentially become commercial services.



The Commission has now undertaken a review of Directive 2003/98 in the internal market. There are two relevant documents:

1) The Commission’s Communication Re-use of Public Sector Information – Review of Directive 2003/98/EC (Brussels, 7.5.2009 COM(2009) 212 final) has been posted on Eur-Lex, under Preparatory acts, COM documents.

2) The more detailed accompanying document is the Commission Staff Working Document SEC(2009) 597.


Main findings

The Commission notes that PSI is used as raw material for a variety of products and services offered to Europe’s citizens every day, such as car navigation systems, weather forecasts, financial and insurance services. The value of the EU PSI market is estimated at €27 billion,2 which is four times the EU market for mobile roaming services. This shows the central role of public sector content in the digital age as a driver of economic activity. A further increase in the use of this resource will therefore directly contribute to the EU’s goals of increasing competitiveness and creating more jobs.

The Commission reaches the following conclusions:

The PSI Directive has introduced the basic conditions to facilitate the re-use of PSI throughout the EU. Progress has been made since its adoption. Commercial re-use of PSI has been allowed, monopolies have been broken, fair trading conditions have been introduced, prices have decreased and there is more transparency. Progress and implementation of the Directive in the MS is however uneven.

Big barriers still exist. These include attempts by public sector bodies to maximise cost recovery, as opposed to benefits for the wider economy, competition between the public and the private sector, practical issues hindering re-use, such as the lack of information on available PSI, and the mindset of public sector bodies failing to realise the economic potential.

These problems and progress by MS to redress them need to be monitored and assessed before the Commission can consider legislative amendments to the PSI Directive.

MS need to focus their efforts now on full and correct implementation and application of the Directive, terminating exclusive arrangements, applying licensing and charging models that facilitate the availability and re-use of PSI, ensuring equal conditions for public bodies reusing their own documents and other re-users, and promoting quick and inexpensive conflict resolution mechanisms.

The Commission will carry out a further review by 2012 when more evidence on the impact, effects and application of the Directive should be available and will consider legislative amendments at that stage, taking into consideration the progress made in the meantime in the Member States.

Ralf Grahn