Open source to be the norm in German public procurement

New rules will be adopted by “traffic light” coalition that will be major boon for open source

Published on: 21/01/2022
News

The new German federal government is in office since early December and promises to give open source in the biggest EU Member State another boost, with a number of new commitments. Open source will be a cornerstone of Germany’s digital state.

On 8 December 2021 a coalition of SPD (Social Democratic Party, the Greens (Alliance 90 / The Greens) and Liberals (Free Democratic Party) took office after obtaining a majority in the 26 September federal elections. With the new government comes a renewed commitment to digitalisation of not only the public sector but society and economy at large.

The three parties agreed on their plans in a 178 page coalition agreement under the title “Daring More Progress”. The coalition agreement was published on 24 November, after negotiating for around a month in 22 working groups, one of them “Digital innovation and digital infrastructure”.

In the final coalition agreement open source software plays an important role. It is considered in a digital sovereignty and pan-European context, as a way to bring progress to digital infrastructure and government services. Interoperability, data portability, open standards and open source are all named as prerequisites to achieve digital sovereignty. The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) will be made more independent and receive more competences in this vein too.

Concretely, the new government committed to have own software development be done in open source, akin to the Public Money, Public Code principle.

“As a rule, development contracts are commissioned as open source, the corresponding software is made public as a matter of principle”.

Though this does not include the open sourcing of existing software, the open source preference represents a paradigm shift in German public software procurement. Similarly, for the growing purchase of cloud services “open interfaces” are planned to become the basis for public services. This plan also extends to the data exchange between the thousands of public entities and authorities.

Open Data as a principle is also being touted in the agreement, yet in this area concrete actions are scarce. Barring concrete decisions, the issue is being handed to a new “data institute” that “should drive data availability and standardisation, establish data trustee models and licences.”

Change takes time

At the same time, the new government is aiming to reduce expectations of a very fast change within digital public administration in Germany. Markus Richter, who will continue as federal CIO with the new government said it would not be possible to “burn off a 100-day programme and then everything is well” at the Future Congress State & Administration, “that’s not how administration works. Structures and sustainability are more important than a flash in the pan”.

New minister of the interior and responsible for state digitalisation, Nancy Faeser (SPD), explained the first 100 days would be used to make a “honest and transparent” inventory of “where we stand on digitalisation of state and administration”.

"I am sometimes amazed that we have not yet got some things off the ground and are not yet up to speed in some fields of work."

New Berlin regional government

A new coalition agreement was also formed in the city state of Berlin, where the SPD formed a new government together with the Greens and the Left Party and published the new coalition agreement on 17 November. Similar to the federal agreement, it includes new, strong commitments to open source.

“Open source and open standards are indispensable for a digitally sovereign city. The coalition will look for open source alternatives in every software procurement and make software specially developed for the administration available to the general public under free licences. Central funding programmes for IT projects should also follow this approach.”

To enable this change, the public IT service provider ITDZ Berlin will create a “competence centre Open Source” and reap “synergy potential” on the national and international level. A standardised open source workspace as “BerlinPC” should become the reference for public procurement. Lastly, the regional government is planning an “Open Source fund to finance development communities, […] to maintain and continue development of applications, […] also those that do not have direct support contracts”.