MEPs call for legal inquiry on Parliament lock-in

At yesterday's European Parliament petition hearing the issue of lock-in was in focus. As it turns out, the Parliament's new Parliament TV does not follow open standards. Moreover, MEPs are currently unable to exchange, send or receive open standards based documents.This situation, most of the audience agreed, is untenable. The Petitions Committee will now consider their next steps, including the request from David Hammerstein MEP for an independent legal investigation.

Being at the European Parliament's Petition Committee hearing was an interesting experience. Clearly, the committee hears petitions from a wide array of stakeholders on almost any issue under the sun. I particularly noted the discussion on the incineration of domestic garbage in Fos Sur Mer, confiscation of automobiles by Greek authorities, as well as the report on extensive urbanization in Spain on individual rights of European citizens. But I am straying from my topic: lock-in.

I believe the Parlamentarians (or rather, their assistants, who were more numerous in their presence) were impressed by the large show of industry as well as grassroots support for this motion to free up the Parliament from lock-in to particular vendors. We, that is a wide array of IT vendors through Openforum Europe, had brought 10.000 signatures and had reps from several large software vendors in the room. Lock-in is counterproductive and problematic for many reasons, many of which have to do with fundamental democratic rights. Moreover, it can be remedied, as the Belgian expert witness testified. Peter Strickx, who is the CTO of FEDICT pointed out that the Belgian government successfully have gotten rid of proprietary file formats in their daily workflow. Citizens, bureaucrats, and industry can now freely exchange documents using the open standard ODF. Granted, the project took some time to get moving, so the challenge for the European Parliament's IT department in the Innovation and Technological Support Directorate (ITEC) is to show they can do the same.

I did wonder what Hugo Lueders, the CompTIA representative who also had the stage for a minute, had in mind when he claimed that he represents “both sides of the equation” and cautioned any action in a markets of “vendors competing about markets”. To him, fighting lock-in with open standards is “affirmative action, non-discrimination, positive discrimination, call it what you will”. Also, astonishingly, he said: “we are not in South Africa”, which to some of us brought about unwelcome associations to fighting apartheid. Surely, he could not mean to say that rectifying lock-in by following open standards has anything to do with fighting apartheid by affirmative action? Also, if he does mean that the current monopoly of vendors with proprietary standards deeply embedded in the European Parliament is in any way related to the racial system of segregation that was apartheid. If so, that is worrying on many accounts. I will leave that alone. Suffice to say that freeing up the European Parliament from lock-in is important, has support from citizens as well as industry, and quite possible. Let's do it.

Comments:

It's quite hard for the European Parliament's Innovation and Technological Support Directorate (ITEC) to combine compatibility and support for arcane standards ( e.g. Wordperfect 6, Oracle Forms 4, NATURAL, Windows 3.11) with Open Document Formats. Add to this the lack of in-house technical knowledge and the EU imposed limits on external consultanting contracts, and you get ...???

Posted by Dany on November 10, 2008 at 06:50 AM GMT #

Dear Trond Arne, In case of any need I wholeheartedly apologize for possible misunderstandings concerning my reference to South Africa during the EP Petition Committee debate of 6 Nov. I really do not understand how this remark can be linked in good faith with racial discrimination or segregation. As you know very well, my remark was in response to the comments made by the petitioner about the South African OSS and open standard policy, presented as a good policy example. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but I am still of the considered opinion that any kind of branding or other preference would simply not be allowed under European public procurement regulations based on technical neutrality. Again my apologizes in case of any misunderstanding. Regards. H.

Posted by Hugo LUEDERS on November 18, 2008 at 06:51 AM GMT #

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Trond Undheim, Ph.D, Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at the Oracle Corporation, speaker, entrepreneur, blogger, and author, is one of the world’s leading experts on technology and society. LinkedIn profile

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