The Open Source Policy Meeting 2020

This year’s pre-FOSDEM EU policy meeting on 31 January 2020 was a water-shed moment for OpenForum Europe. It’s an annual affair, but this year, we almost tripled the number of attendees who gathered to exchange ideas on the role of Open Source in accelerating Europe’s digital transformation. Representatives ranged from individual developers, SMEs and policy professionals from the EU sphere to Open Source officers at some of the world’s largest companies as well as the core EU institutions.

Highlights from the event include:

  • Kick-off of the first European Open Source Business Association, APELL
  • Call for input for the EU study on the impact of Open Source on technological independence, competitiveness and innovation
  • Presentations: Gaia-X project and digital sovereignty; hard data on Open Source in France; healthcare and Open Source.

The morning session was opened by Pearse O’Donohue, Director for Future Networks at the European Commission’s DG Connect. The speech set the tone for the rest of the day, as Mr. O’Donohue challenged the participants to think bigger and more strategically. What is the role of Open Source in improving the lives of European citizens at the large scale? How can it contribute to our digital sovereignty? How can it be applied to build a more competitive yet greener European economy?

The following session was held by Mirko Boehm of TU Berlin and Paula Grzegorzewska of OFE on The European Commission’s Open Source Study, which is currently being conducted by Fraunhofer ISI and OpenForum Europe. The presentation offered a concrete way for stakeholders to get engaged in the policy work, as the outcome of the study depends to a large extent on the input from Open Source communities. And the stakes are high, as the study will investigate the impact of Open Source software and hardware on technological independence, competitiveness and innovation. The final result aims to steer supportive policy related work by the European Commission in this area by providing the evidence and foundational knowledge to do so.

In his presentation, Peter Ganten, CEO of the Open Source Business Alliance, provided insight into the political developments in Germany that have led to the efforts around Gaia-X. The German government together with the opposition parties have expressed concerns around dependency on critical technologies provided principally by the so-called “GAFA” companies. This is especially critical in the cloud area but also in desktop solutions. The concerns expressed have to do with information and legal security as it also has on data protection. The goal of the Gaia-X project is to set up a high-performance, competitive, secure and trustworthy federated data infrastructure for Europe. It is also stated that the project is very open to international contributions.

The morning session then continued with a presentation by Stéfane Fermigier, co-president of CNLL. Together with partners, they have for the last few years conducted a study mapping the developments in the French Open Source market, as well as comparative cases from other EU member states. The study showed among other things that the French Open Source market is the largest in Europe in terms of volume. According to the study, this is due to a strong culture in specific development and integration of heterogeneous systems, as well as a historically large investment by public authorities.

Dr. Axel K. Braun of GNU Health and Stuart Mackintosh of OpusVL each provided a state-of-play report on Open Source usage, challenges and opportunities in the health care sector. Axel K. Braun offered a myth-busting exercise around the applicability of Free Software, as well as its additional benefits in terms of allowing SME inclusion and improvements to privacy. Stuart Mackintosh offered a detailed description of the challenges and successes of the DITO project as part of an Open Digital Approach for the National Health Service in the UK.

To end the session, Stéfane Fermigier, CNLL and Peter Ganten, OSBA, presented to the public for the first time the new European Open Source Business Association, APELL (Association Professionelle Européenne du Logiciel Libre). In the current political climate and as Open Source has gone mainstream, there are new challenges and opportunities for Open Source vendors. At the same time, there is currently no representative organisation for Open Source businesses in the EU context, which is now being remedied. The initial action points planned are to 1) actively contribute to the European study on open source and open hardware, as well as policy propositions for the EC; 2) develop a common position on digital sovereignty, specially for the cloud and operating systems; and 3) recruit new members and provide a more detailed picture for the European open source business ecosystem.

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