Member of the European Parliament Amelia Andersdotter wants public administrations to consider software freedom as one of the reasons to select new ICT solutions. "Authorities should base their choice at least partially on an ideological framework. What freedoms does the software give to their citizens, enterprises, authorities and schools?"
Last Saturday the MEP addressed Brussel's Fosdem conference, Europe's largest gathering of developers of free and open source software. She explained that calling on the authorities to consider software freedoms goes against the current procurement practice in Europe. Tenders for software solutions are usually formulated so not to discriminate any technology. This technology-neutrality is well-intended, she says, but the wording is often wrong.
This impartiality is used by public administrations to ward off possible EU legislation that imposes a costly migration to an alternative computing platform. "We don't want to oblige them to use formats they don't want, or force them in directions they do not like."
Force might not be required. Public administrations already have a strong preference for openness and Andersdotter says that there is a lot of political support. "We have governments and deputies in national parliaments, regional parliaments and local authorities supporting open standards, open formats and even free software. What we lack is really more the deployment of these tools rather than a realisation that they could be beneficial to society."
What is missing, she says, are free software firms touting their solutions. "Municipalities need someone to offer them what they want. At the moment, they don't know where to go."
Squaring software licences
MEP Andersdotter commended the European Commission for its work towards harmonising the member states' legal systems, especially for free and open source software licences. She explained that it is difficult to tell if the most popular free software licence, version 2 of the GNU Public Licence, is valid in every European jurisdiction. "There was an attempt to make a version of this licence that is guaranteed to be valid in all member states. The interoperable European Union Public Licence was the work of the European Commission and they deserve some credit for that. This is the type of work we need our public institutions to engage in."