The new EU Directive on open data

European Union is working hard to make public sector information held by its Member States easily accessible to everyone. We will try to explain how are they trying to achieve it, especially with the new Directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information.

Let’s start from the beginning. Directive 2003/98/EC, also known as the ‘PSI Directive’ was the first document dealing with the re-use of public data which entered into force on December 31st, 2003. It's main purpose was to support the evolution towards the society of information and knowledge, in which information about the public sector is freely available and plays an important role.

The first step towards achieving this goal was to ensure fair, proportionate and non-discriminatory conditions for the re-use of such information. A general framework was created and the policies governing national rules and practices on the re-use of public sector put into place.

First revision came with the Directive 2013/37/EU, which entered into force on July 17th, 2013. EU Member States were obliged to adapt it by July 18, 2015. The aim of this revision was to reach the goals of the original directive and expand its impact by opening the market for services based on public sector information.The main changes were:

  • expanding the scope of application of the Directive to institutions such as libraries (including university libraries), museums and archives;
  • limiting the fees that the public authorities can charge at the marginal costs as a rule;
  • Introducing an independent supervision over the compliance with the re-use policies in the Member States;
  • making machine-readable formats for information held by public authorities the norm.

The Commission carried out a review of the application of Directive 2013/37/EU based on the results of public online consultation in the form of a proposal for a revision of the Directive, which was adopted by the European Commission on April 25th, 2018. The proposal aims to overcome the main barriers that still prevent the full re-use of public sector information, which are listed in the impact assessment.

The proposed changes were:

  • Reduce market entry barriers, in particular for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), by limiting the exceptions that allow public bodies to charge for the re-use of their data more than the marginal costs of dissemination;
  • Increase the availability of data by bringing new types of public and publicly funded data into the scope of the Directive, such as data held by public undertakings in the utilities and transport sectors and research data resulting from public funding;
  • Minimalize the risk of excessive first-mover advantage, which benefits large companies and thereby limits the number of potential re-users of the data in question, by requiring a more transparent process for the establishment of public–private data arrangements;
  • Increase business opportunities by encouraging the dissemination of dynamic data via application programming interfaces (APIs).

Based on the impact assessment and proposed changes was written the new Directive EU 2019/1024 on open data and the re-use of public sector information. It is taking over the PSI Directive and promotes the use of open data and stimulates innovation in products and services. To do so, the Directive establishes set of minimum rules governing the re-use and the practical arrangements for facilitating the re-use of open data. The Member States shall bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive by 17 July 2021, mainly to keep up with the advances in digital technologies.

What are the rules and arrangements?

  • The Directive defines free to use documents which should be publicly available. It applies to existing documents held by public sector bodies of the Member States, public undertakings and research data. The Directive also defines what are the marginal costs that can be in very limited cases charged for the reuse of their data. Free of charge availability of open data will allow SMEs and startups to more easily compete with large companies with great financial potential.
  • The Directive defines list of thematic categories of high-value datasets: Geospatial, Earth observation and environment, Meteorological, Statistics, Companies and company ownership, Mobility. European Commission will adopt an implementing act to define a list of specific high-value datasets, which will be provided under separate set of rules. These datasets are associated with important benefits for society, economy and environment. The key is their suitability for the creation of innovative services, applications and new, high-quality and decent jobs. These specific high-value datasets shall be made available free of charge, in machine readable formats and via application programming interface (API) and, where relevant, as a bulk download.
  • The re-use of documents shall be open to all potential users. None of the contracts made between the public sector and the third parties shall not grant exclusive rights.
  • Available formats in which should public sector bodies make their documents available are defined in the Directive. Especially the dynamic data - frequently updated or real-time data valuable specifically immediately after their collection. Public sector bodies shall make dynamic data available via suitable APIs and, where relevant, as a bulk download.