Education: The French Senate requests that the Public Service for Higher Education preferentially use Free Software

Paris, 24 June 2013. Press release.

Last week, the French Senate made a first reading of the bill on Higher Education and Research. April especially welcomes one of the provisions that were introduced by the Senate, namely a change to Article 6 that prioritises Free Software in the Public Service for Higher Education1.

April hopes that the Government, which has not opposed such a measure in plenary, will maintain this essential disposition and extend it to all education, higher education, and research.

In the draft law [petite loi] (FR) that was adopted by the Senate, Article 6 includes the following:

II. – In the aforementioned Education Code, Article L. 123-4-1 is reinstated and reads as follows:

“Art. L. 123-4-1. – The Public Service for Higher Education provides digital services and educational resources to its users.

“Copyright-free software [logiciels libres de droit] is used as a priority.”

This provision originates from Amendment 30 (FR), filed by Senators Gonthier-Maurin, Le Scouarnec, Laurent and the members of the Communist, Republican and Citizen Group [Groupe communiste républicain et citoyen]. Let us recall that these Senators are behind the amendment that gave priority to Free Software in the future Public Service for Digital Education, in the context of the bill on reorganisation of public schools [refondation de l'école de la République]. This provision, however, was watered down by a governmental amendment which was approved by the National Assembly.

Even though Amendment 30 uses the inadequate term “copyright-free software” [logiciels libres de droits]”, it does give priority to Free Software. Indeed, the minutes of the session of 20 June 2013 (FR) state the motivations underlying this amendment:

Mr Michel Le Scouarnec is given the floor.

Mr Michel Le Scouarnec. This amendment is in line with the provision that we tabled at first reading of the bill on reorganisation of public schools. It provided that the Public Service for Digital Education should prioritise Free Software and open formats.

It seems just as logical to us that the Public Service for Higher Education should give priority to copyright-free software.

This provision is coherent with the recommendation found in the guidelines from the Prime Minister, dated 19 September 2012, on using Free Software in public administration.

Moreover it is political in nature, the hallmark of a State which, within a public service, chooses to take a clear stand in favour of freedom and equality.

Indeed, the priority given to Free Software in a public service ensures equal access to all the students. In addition, Free Software provides safeguards: it ensures complete interoperability of information systems, it precludes binding users into formats that entail a form of technological dependence and it is always available. Free Software provides freedoms: firstly, to use the software for any purpose, secondly, thanks to the availability of source code, to tailor the software to one's needs and, thirdly, to copy the software without any limits to distribution.

Furthermore, Senator Le Scouarnec states that, contrary to Government's claims during the debates on the public school reorganisation bill, no legal issue arises from enshrining a provision favouring Free Software into the law.

Moreover, I would like to point out that giving priority to Free Software poses no problems in terms of competition, despite what is sometimes claimed. The French highest administrative court has stated this point in a ruling, dated 30 September 2011, about the choice of Free Software made by a local government, namely the Picardie Region. This ruling stressed the difference between the procurement of goods and that of services.

This ruling showed that the choice of a free program can be made freely by local governments, because this type of software doesn't limit market competition later on, for instance when implementing, using and maintaining a digital working environment, as well as hosting a service platform.

Moreover, a ruling of the Italian Constitutional Court, dated 23 March 2010, states that the Free Software qualification refers to a functional characteristic rather than to any specific product.

Thus, giving priority to Free Software raises no issues with respect to market competition law. Other European countries chose to implement policies resting specifically on Free Software and open standards, without raising any legal certainty problems.

As it did for the bill on public school reorganisation, the Government then introduces an amendment, no. 327 (FR), which simply aims at taking into consideration “Free Software and open format documents on offer, if there are any.”

Geneviève Fioraso, Minister for Higher Education and Research, explains:

Mrs Geneviève Fioraso, Minister. We completely agree with Amendment 30. Thus, for the sake of consistency, we suggest to connect it with Article 10 of the bill on public school reorganisation that the Senate adopted a few weeks ago. This will help stress the continuity between the two bills.

But Dominique Gillot, the rapporteur of the bill, explains that the governmental amendment is not binding, this being unfortunate, and supports Amendment 30 that creates a requirement in favour of Free Software.

Mrs President. What is the Committee's opinion?

Mrs Dominique Gillot, rapporteur. After careful review of the two amendments, it appeared to the Committee that the Senate's wording, arrived at for the bill on public school reorganisation, was clearer. It provides that Free Software is used as a priority. The Government's amendment, by stating that the service “takes into consideration Free Software [...] if there is any,” doesn't create any requirement, and that seems unfortunate.

Mrs Brigitte Gonthier-Maurin. Quite!

Mrs Dominique Gillot, rapporteur. As a result, the Committee approves Amendment 30 and disproves Amendment 327.

Mrs President. What is the Government's opinion on Amendment 30?

Mrs Geneviève Fioraso,Minister. In order to avoid any argument on the matter, and even though I would have preferred to be in total coherence with the bill on public school reorganisation, I defer to the Senate's wisdom. We are indeed within the framework of parliamentary debate, so you have your right of initiative.

Mrs President. I invite the vote on Amendment 30.

(The amendment is adopted.)

Mrs President. Therefore Amendment 327 is pointless.

I invite the vote on modified Article 6.

Since the Government has chosen the “accelerated procedure” for this bill, there will be only one reading in each chamber, followed by a joint committee [commission mixte paritaire] whose mandate is to reconcile the views of the two chambers into a single text.

“Once more, the Senators recognise the importance of Free Software for a public service. We hope that the Government is not going to make any new attempt at reversing the encouragement to use Free Software in education, which was one of François Hollande's presidential campaign commitments2,” said Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director of April.

About April

Pioneer of Free Software in France, April is since 1996 a major player in the democratisation and the spread of Free Software and open standards to the general public, professionals and institutions in the French-speaking world. In the digital era that is ours, it also aims to inform the public on the dangers of an exclusive appropriation of information an knowledge by private interests.

The association has over 4,000 members, using or producing Free Software.

For more information, you may go to the following website:, contact us by phone at +33 178 769 280 or through our contact form.

Press contacts:

Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director, +33 660 688 931
Jeanne Tadeusz, Public Affairs Officer, +33 1 78 76 92 82

English translation done by : Thérèse, Jeanne, Thibz, Jelena, Janchou. April's English translation team is recruiting volunteers.

  • 1.

    For more information on the Public Service for Higher Eduducation, (FR) see the Legifrance website

  • 2. In April 2013, François Hollande's answer to the National Council of Free Software was that, in the IT field, the State should work toward “agile, rather than large, expensive, compartmentalized projects,” stressing that “Free Software allows for more resource sharing and encourages competition among external suppliers.”. About education specifically, he stated the following: “I hope that high quality Free Software, using standardised open formats, will be taught in schools and universities, and that its use will be given priority in all exams, both for office applications and for scientific, technical or documentary uses.”