December 21st, 2007 | Published in Google Public Policy
Openness is the key to innovation, and innovation is the key to future growth and development. So it is hardly surprising to see that governments all over the European Union -- in Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany -- are now moving to support both open standards as well as open source.
The Norweigan ICT minister Heidi Grande Røys just recently advertised a large national push for open source and open standards projects all over Norway. A national competence center for open source was also recently founded by a group of trade associations, municipalities and national government agencies. The objective of the center is to promote openness in projects as well as to make sure that institutions and support exists to sustain long-term development for open source. The Norweigan government also recently declared that they will only use open standards for government information, with the Open Document Format identified as the main alternative.
In September the Dutch Secretary of State of Economic Affairs, Frank Heemskerk, and the Dutch Secretary of State of Internal Affairs, Ank Bijleveld-Schouten, published the Action Plan Open Standards and Open Source Software. This plan, which sets the agenda for the public sector to use open source software from 2008 and a requirement to apply a "comply-or-explain and commit" principle for open standards, is a follow-up of the national competence center that was founded a couple of years ago.
When the plan was discussed in the Dutch Parliament on December 12, some political parties went beyond simply declaring their support and stated that the price of hardware and software should be unbundled and requested a legal obligation to use open source software. Heemskerk did not favour a legal obligation, but promised to set-up a hotline where complaints can be filed. On that same date Heemskerk also published a letter in the Financiele Dagblad that reiterated the commitment of the Dutch government to open standards and open source software, also based on the notion that this will reduce administrative burdens.
Germany has also had a long-standing involvement in open standards and free software. Prodded by a very active developer base and the oldest and largest industry association for free software, the Linux-Verband, the German government was the first to fund free software development with its support for GnuPG as early as 1999. Free software is recommended by the German Agency for Security in Information Technology (BSI) and adoption ranges from the German Foreign Ministry, which introduced free software to secure its lines of communication with all embassies around the world in 2003 and started using GNU/Linux on the desktop in 2006, over municipalities like Munich to regions like Friesland. Much of this adoption is driven by strategic considerations and security by transparency. Control of infrastructures, freedom of choice, markets and political independence are other driving factors of this evolution. It is hardly surprising then, that the German Foreign Ministry recently came out in strong support of the Open Document Format.