Free Software Strategy of the European Commission : "Think Open" But Not Too Big

Press Release. October 26, 2020.

The European Commission released it's Free Software strategy for the 2020 – 2023 time period. Apart from a few reminders of how important free software has become, it lists few concrete objectives, and we are far from an actual priority to free software. The main measure it outlines: the creation of an "Open Source Programme Office" within DG DIGIT (Directorate-General for Informatics), but without going into any details regarding either the budget or manpower to be allocated to the office.

The European Commission updated its Free Software strategy. The previous one covered the 2014 – 2017 period; we have, therefore, had to wait three years for this new strategy. It should be, nonetheless, noted that it is an official policy document, numbered C(2020) 7149, that binds the Commission, unlike the previous documents. In the document, titled "Open Source Software Strategy 2020 – 2023" (16 pages) the Commission starts by underscoring how important free software is; while going through its introduction, one may wonder, though, whether the Commission sees value in free software only as far as infrastructure software, and cares little whether proprietary services are built on top that infrastructure.

The Commission says that it wants to share more the tools developed internally, and to contribute more actively in the main free software communities. The commission wants to establish an "open culture" and highlights the inherent benefits of free software for digital sovereignty, interoperability and sharing. But the strategy lacks concrete, detailed actions regarding, for instance, the procedures of public procurement, or regarding its dependence on Microsoft for its desktops, office software, and messaging. These topics are simply not mentioned.

The strategy, titled « think open», uses an old and recurrent argument : "Open-source solutions will be preferred when equivalent in functionalities, total cost and cybersecurity" (page 8). Timid ambition that calls only for more of the same dependence on proprietary computing, something that only prioritizing free software could overcome. With these kinds of statements, Microsoft still has a bright future on the Commission's desktops. This stance on "equivalence" was already taken by the Commission in 2018 1.

The main concrete action is probably the creation of an "Open Source Programme Office" :

"The strategy and the action plan are inextricably linked. The pivotal point will be an Open Source Programme Office that enjoys genuine political and organisational support, involving all directorates-general. "

This office will be under DG DIGIT responsability (the EU Commission's department for informatics). While the creation of such an office is a good thing, no information regarding either its budget or manpower is given.

Moreover, during our audition before the mission lead by E. Bothorel (member of the French parliament) on open data and sources codes , we made the case for the creation of a mission or agency, at an interministerial level, with dedicated manpower, to assist administrations with the use and publication of software and with contribution policies. Such an entity would be intended to make free software a real priority in the public sector.