In July 2020 the French National Assembly convened a special mission on building and promoting national and European digital sovereignty. The mission has just published its first report last month with a set of recommendations, among which it suggests using open source software as a default in public administrations.
The report was presented by MPs Jean-Luc Wassermann and Philippe Latombe. The document is set in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid switch to digital that occurred in the last year, pointing to the necessity of prioritising technological independence.
The report points to China and the USA as two states with the highest digital independence that apply vastly different approaches, but are similar in their strong political will and significant investments in digital infrastructure and developments. Contrary, Europe finds itself in a position of dependency in the digital sector, starting from the rare earth sector and disrupted supply chains in the semiconductor production, through PC and electronic equipment production, to software that in a majority of cases is provided by overseas companies.
As a response to these challenges, the report proposes 66 recommendations aiming to strengthen French and European digital sovereignty in different areas such as cybersecurity, deeptech, infrastructure, software and others, and introducing several regulatory and funding mechanisms. The most significant proposal regarding open source software is as follows:
Proposal No. 52: Enforce within the administration the systematic use of free software, making the use of proprietary solutions an exception.
This proposal is based on the instruction from the Prime Minister in September 2012, the Digital Republic law from 2016 and the circular from 27 April 2021. All these documents state that open source software is an adequate solution for public administrations due to its flexibility, modular approach, cost saving possibilities, and transparency and openness.
Other proposals include: (26) giving preference to French or European solutions in public procurement, (53) imposing systematic use of French digital solutions in the public administration, (56) developing a European cloud, (62) integrating issues of digital sovereignty into EU’s competition policy, (65) putting digital issues at heart of the French Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2022, and (66) strengthening European participation in international Internet regulatory bodies and standardisation.
Dozens of stakeholders were consulted for this report through interviews and dedicated round tables, including the European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, French government officials, private sector players and non-governmental organisations. The full report is available on the mission’s site (in French).