The IT department of the European Parliament will next year make available as open source At4am, software that helps staff at the EP write amendments. The tool could be useful for many other parliaments and other public bodies that create legislative texts. The United Nations and the parliaments in Denmark and in the United Kingdom have expressed interest in the software.
"Processes for drafting legal texts differ from parliament to parliament. We hope that by sharing our software, we can at least inspire other legislative bodies", says Claudio Fabiani, Project Manager at DG ITEC, the Directorate General of the European Parliament, and involved in the development of At4am.
The decision to make At4am (Automatic Tool for AMendments) open source was taken in recent months. It was briefly mentioned last week Thursday during a workshop in the EP on the use of XML for drafting legislation.
The At4am web editing tool was first made available to the EP staff in early 2010. It can only be accessed by users logged in to the EP's Intranet.
The web editor can be used in any web browser. EP staff write amendments by creating files in an XML format which is designed especially for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents. That XML schema, called Akoma Ntoso, is currently under consideration for standardisation at OASIS.
The software saves the EP staff time by automatically applying the rules for drafting such amendments. When opening a text, At4am shows which paragraphs can be changed and presents the user with editing information. This information is stored as metadata for the amendment.
All amendments are saved in the At4am database as content, rendering codes and metadata. They can be exported either in the Akoma Ntoso XML schema or saved as a binary electronic document.
The application itself is available in the three working languages of EP, English, French and German. All documents to amend however are instantly accessible in any of the official languages of the EU.
The IT department at the EP has not yet decided which open source licence it will use. "Maybe we will use the EU's open source licence, the EUPL, but we might also pick another one, or make a combination", says Fabiani.
The software developers also have not yet settled where they will publish the source code. The EC's Joinup software repository is one option, Fabiani says. "Though maybe we will settle for Google's software forge, or both. We just started thinking about all of this."
The open source version will not be exactly the same as the software used in the EP, explains Fabiani. "It has some functions that are unique to the EP. To make sure it can be implemented by or is useful for other parliaments, we will first have to untangle some of the legislative context and services."