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European Commission Officer Jiri Pilar to introduce Public Sector Information Directive at e-IRG Workshop in Geneva

At the Open e-IRG Workshop, organized at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 20-21, 2019, Jiri Pilar, a Legal and Policy Officer in the Data Policy and Innovation Unit at the Luxembourg-based European Commission's Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT), held a presentation on the status of the Public Sector Information Directive.

Jiri Pilar explained that there are three main streams in the data policy that the European Commission is running since last year. The first one is the traditional re-use of public sector data.  The EC is now also looking at rules and policy tendencies for data exchange between businesses, as well as for data exchange between businesses and government, the so-called BTG relations. The EC has put forward some principles that businesses should respect, such as transparency in their dealings with data; sharing value when the data is created and the subsequent profit; and respecting one another's commercial interests.

For BTG relationships, there is currently an expert group discussing the possible rules and principles under which governments or cities could get their hands on data from businesses or how they can perform better policies and how they can react to difficult situations and emergencies and provide efficient government.

The third strand is research data, which was the topic of Jiri Pilar's presentation for e-IRG. Research data traditionally were not part of rules and policies. This is about to change because research data are now covered by the Directive on Public Sector Information.

The European Commission is interested in data policies. The latest buzz word is Artificial Intelligence. It was regarded as a topic of high interest during the European Council meeting of 28 June 2018. Access to data is very important with regard to Artificial Intelligence. The societal benefits of open access to data is obvious. It will provide a better and easier life for citizens and can address societal challenges. Jiri Pilar also stressed the relevance of open data access for Europe's competitiveness. It has the potential to double the size of the data economy. Access to data can improve the efficiency of all economic sectors.

Jiri Pilar explained the framework in which one is moving. He introduced the concept of the Public Sector Information Directive which is not very known to the public at this stage. This is going to change soon. This Directive will change its name to Open Data Directive in the future, although it is not only about open data. Whatever is accessible in a Member State has a need to be re-usable for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Public bodies are obliged to address re-use applications within a time limit; limit the charges at a marginal cost of reproduction; be transparent on conditions for re-use; avoid discrimination between re-users; and limit the use of exclusive arrangements.

The Directive serves as a basis for the European Data Portal. It does not serve as a blueprint for the European European Science Cloud since it is a more general data portal, but it harvests all the national data portals, according to Jiri Pilar. This data portal exists for a year already. Currently, it is harvesting 850.000 datasets. It comprises metadata in 25 languages. It covers all the European Union countries and a few other ones, including candidate EU countries, Associated Countries, and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The portal does not provide complicated services such as researchers would use. It offers translation and visualisation. However, it is a good example of how European data can be brought together and made findable and accessible.    

The new directive on Open Data and the re-use of public sector information aims to encourage the availability of dynamic data and the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to make access and re-use easier. The intention is to limit the exceptions that allow public bodies to charge more for the re-use of their data than the marginal costs of dissemination. Another goal is to strengthen the transparency requirements for public–private agreements involving public sector information, avoiding exclusive arrangements. Furthermore, the European Commission wants to enlarge the scope of the Directive to data held by some public undertakings and to research data resulting from public funding.

There has been an update in 2018 of the 2012 Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information which is not legally binding up till now. The updated guidance to Member States on how to implement open access policies considers new developments in the area of research data management, including the FAIR - findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable - concept. It encourages incentive schemes and reward systems for researchers and reflects ongoing developments of increased capacity of data analytics. There is also alignment with the development of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).

The European Commission wants to create an infrastructure for open science. The Member States have to implement clear policies for further developing infrastructures for access to, preservation, sharing and re-use of scientific information and for promoting their federation within the EOSC. They have to ensure synergies among national infrastructures. Research data from publicly funded research has to be findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable - the FAIR principles - within a secure and trusted environment, through digital infrastructures, including those federated within the European Open Science Cloud where relevant, unless this is not possible or is incompatible with the further exploitation of the research results.

The Recommendation, adopted together with the proposal for a Directive, proclaims that two elements of Open Access to research information are lifted into the Directive:

• Requirement for the Member States to adopt national Open Access policies to further encourage the availability and re-use of research data.
• Re-use layer of publicly-funded research data already publicly accessible via repositories.

Jiri Pilar stated that not all of the research data have to be reusable but only if they are publicly funded and researchers, research performing organisations or research funding organisations have already made them publicly available through a repository. Neither necessary is an unlimited scope of data to be made re-usable. This is only true for research data in a digital form, other than scientific publications, which are collected or produced in the course of scientific research activities. Other documents continue to be exempt.

He also insisted that the interests of private funders have to be protected. Concerns in relation to privacy, protection of personal data, confidentiality, national security, legitimate commercial interests, such as trade secrets, and to intellectual property rights of third parties should be duly taken into account, according to the principle "as open as possible, as closed as necessary". Not all of the data of research organisations have to be made available. The Directive applies to such hybrid organisations only in their capacity as research performing organisations and to their research data.

Jiri Pilar ended his talk by explaining the legislative process. The European Parliament organized discussions in the leading ITRE Committee, accompanied by the IMCO, CULT and LIBE Committees. The Council is the working party and organized COREPER discussions under three Presidencies, including the Bulgarian, Austrian and Romanian ones.

Trilogues are organized with the first trilogue already held in December 2018. There were five technical meetings in January 2019. A political agreement was reached by the co-legislators at the second trilogue on 22 January 2019.

The Plenary of the European Parliament adopted the Directive in April 2019. The Council of the European Union will do this in June 2019. Implementation should be expected within two years of the publication, which will be June 2021.