Brussels, 20 Nov 2003
As the European Parliament considers legislation on the re-use and commercial exploitation of public sector information, an EU funded project is working to create the conditions in which a real internal market in public information can come into being across Europe.
Information collected by public administrations, from business and patenting data to transport and geographical information, remains an underused resource in Europe. Factors such as linguistic differences, lack of transparency and divergent rules for the re-use of data in Member States, make it hard for individuals and businesses to obtain specific public sector information from other EU countries. This hampers the mobility of individuals and the expansion of businesses across borders, and prevents European content providers from establishing a dynamic market in information services that are based on re-using and adding value to public data.
In this context, the ePSINet project, funded under the European Commission's eContent programme, has established an EU-wide network in which managers of public sector information (PSI) can exchange knowledge and break down some of the barriers to the re-use of public data across Europe. CORDIS News spoke to Agnes Uhereczky of EURA, the regional development company of mid and north Denmark, and one of seven partners from five countries involved in the ePSINet project. The project has now reached its half-way point, and Ms Uhereczky is able to point to the establishment of an extensive network of country coordinators, representing communities of PSI stakeholders in each current EU Member State.
These communities share information and ask questions of each other on the ePSIGate web portal, which is designed to increase awareness of new developments on a range of policy and legal issues, and on the general PSI context in different Member States. People contribute documents in their national language and provide a summary of the information in English. The ultimate aim is to increase businesses' ability to re-use and commercially exploit public information so that such data realises its market potential and is made more freely available around Europe.
'A lot has been achieved with the internal market in terms of the free movement of people, goods, services and capital - but what about the free movement of information?', asks Ms Uhereczky, 'This is a prerequisite for the competitiveness of European business', she adds. 'If you want to expand your enterprise to another part of Europe, then you are entitled to know about company law and other regulations in that country. The problem is that such information is not readily available [...], it is hidden away in the internal computers of governments, of industry, of tourism boards, etc.'
The ePSIGate web portal has begun the process of retrieving such information and making it available to information service providers and other PSI stakeholders around Europe. Their 'regulatory gateway' provides overviews on general policy and the main areas of law concerning the re-use and exploitation of public sector information in different European countries. There is also information on important disputes between commercial re-users of PSI and some government agencies, which are attempting to charge higher fees for the public documentation that they offer to information service providers.
Not only providing PSI stakeholders with information on current trends, ePSIGate also contributes to the formation of a more integrated European PSI community. Ms Uhereczky highlights the 'Ask ePSINet' facility, whereby individual information service providers or other stakeholders can ask questions on a range of issues, such as conditions for the re-use of PSI in a particular EU country. This question is then dealt with by a member of the network who is suitably qualified to answer, thus contributing to understanding of PSI issues and to the growth of PSI exploitation over time.
Building on the basis of the earlier 'PSINet Preparatory Action', the ePSINet project has attracted the interest of over 1,700 PSI stakeholders. Now that the ePSIGate web portal is up and running, the project's partners are calling on many more PSI actors to get involved and animate the web portal by posting their information and gaining knowledge from other parts of Europe which could be of great interest to their business.
The ePSINet project intends to expand its network to the accession and candidate countries in due course, and is planning to host a major policy conference on the use of public sector information in November 2004.
For further information, please consult the following web address: http:///www.epsigate.org/index.htm