Request for adherence to Open Standards in EU bodies and EC programmes

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(this page restored from old backups. Assumed date is ~june 2009)

A group of universities, civil organisations and individuals across Europe have sent an appeal to the European Commission expressing their concerns on the lock-in effects of proprietary file formats for digital documents. Amongst others, this letter has been sent to

  • European Commission DGs: Information Society and Media, Competition, Informatics;
  • Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency, Heads of: Unit P1 / Lifelong Learning: Comenius, Grundtvig, ICT and Languages, Unit P2 / Lifelong Learning: Erasmus, Jean Monnet, Unit P3 / Lifelong Learning: Leonardo da Vinci & Studies, Indicators and Dissemination, Unit P4 / Erasmus Mundus & External Cooperation;
  • IDABC, ICT Information Desk, Committee on Petitions, EIS – European Interoperability Strategy, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities;
  • and via online forms for other funding programmes such as FP7.

Replies from several Commission services have been received. See here the reaction of DIGIT and the reaction of EACEA ( page 1 and page 2), of DG Competition and DG Information Society and Media referred the request to DIGIT. The European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions has admitted the request in their procedure.


Dear representatives,

With this letter we want to express our concerns about the lock-in effects of proprietary file formats for digital documents. Many European citizens and organisations share these concerns with us and therefore we request you to take into account and adhere to existing policies and recommendations for the adoption of Open Standards.

It is well known that computer technologies have a network effect [1]: the more users a certain software has, and in particular a certain file format, the more other users are attracted to using the same technology. As a consequence, software vendors have been able to capture users into near monopolies for decades. This tendency has hindered innovation, interoperability and access to technology and knowledge. To free society from such vendor dependencies, important international movements have grown around Free Software (also know as Open Source Software) and Open Standards. These technologies provide some fundamental requirements for democratic societies, such as vendor independence, interoperability, information durability and a level playing field for innovation.

The European Commissioner for Competition, Ms. Neelie Kroes, insisted [2] that “The Commission must do its part. It must not rely on one vendor, it must not accept closed standards, and it must refuse to become locked into a particular technology, jeopardizing maintenance of full control over the information in its possession.”

The European Commission has recognised the importance of Open Standards and made it a requirement already in the Fifth Framework Programme, and subsequent funding programmes continue to encourage their beneficiaries to make their results available in open formats [3].

The Commission’s Agency for Interoperability and eGovernment services (IDABC) works with the Member States on the adoption of Open Standards within the European Interoperability Framework [4] and strongly recommends the use of internationally standardised Open Document Exchange Formats, such as the ISO-adopted Open Document Format (ODF) for office applications [5]. In order to assure vendor independence, Open Standards must have multiple complete implementations by competing vendors, [6], [7].

As a consequence several Member States have adopted, or are in the process of implementing, policies for the use of Open Standards, such as The Netherlands [8], Spain [9], Germany, Denmark, France and Belgium [10].

We therefore request the European Commission to:

  1. stop forcing EU citizens and organisations to use specific software from one vendor.
  2. provide documents in Open Standard file formats so users can choose the software they prefer [11].
  3. require that project results of EC funded projects be made available in Open Standard file formats to ensure durability of information, facilitate the exchange between projects and leave room for innovation on the software application side, now and in the future.
  4. provide training and support services to facilitate the transition towards Open Standards.
  5. learn from existing policies and their implementations at the European and national level.

We are aware that the changes requested here do imply costs and efforts, but they are very much needed in order to make the Information Society a place for all to learn, create, communicate and do business. Within our coalition there are many experts in relevant areas who would be glad to discuss the best approach to make this change happen.

The undersigned,

  • Free Knowledge Institute – Wouter Tebbens
  • Internet Society – Dutch Chapter – Reinder Rustema
  • GNU Project – Franco Iacomella
  • Universidad Rey Juan Carlos – Jesus M. Gonzalez-Barahona
  • Universiteit van Amsterdam – Antoni Verger Planells
  • The Open University / Institute of Educational Technologies – UK – Andreas Meiszner
  • Universitat Oberta de Catalunya – David Megias
  • seed association – Lugano – Switzerland – Chiara Bramani
  • The Open Knowledge Foundation – Jonathan Gray
  • ISCTE Lisbon University, Caixa Mágica – Paulo Trezentos
  • University Paris Diderot Paris 7 – Roberto Di Cosmo
  • Università della Svizzera italiana / seed association, Lugano – Luca Botturi
  • NLnet – Valer Mischenko
  • Università della Svizzera italiana / Politecnico di Milano – Luca Mazzola
  • eLab / Università della Svizzera italiana – Josic Goran
  • Multimedia Institute – Tomislav Medak
  • Habibihaus – Sigrid Svensson
  • Habibihaus – Elise Grosse
  • Habibihaus – Hälsar Filippa
  • OpenDoc Society – Tom Peelen
  • Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya / Observatori del Deute en la Globalització – Jesús Carrión
  • Free Knowledge Institute – David Jacovkis
  • Free Knowledge Institute – Hinde ten Berge
  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona – Judith Jacovkis
  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona – Seminari d’Anàlisi de Polítiques Social – Xavier Rambla

For more information you can contact the Free Knowledge Institute:
Wibautstraat 150
1091 GR Amsterdam
T: +31.20.8910.319
F: +31.877.844.107
E: access[at]


[2] EC Competion Commissioner Ms. Kroes, Brussels, speech “Being Open about Standards”, 10th June 2008:
[3] The EC’s Sixth Framework Programme encouraged the use of Open Standards and Free Software:
[4] The European Interoperability Framework, IDABC, see page 9 for the minimum requirements for an Open Standard:
[5] IDABC’s Pan-European eGovernment ServicesCommittee (PEGSCO),
[6] Bruce Perens definition of an Open Standard, Principles and Practice

[7] SELF Open Standards Definition
[8] The Netherlands in Open Connection, action plan by the Dutch Government for Open Standards,
[9] The Regional Government of Extremadura (Spain) agreed to the obligatory use of Open Standards within government organisations:…. The Spanish National Government made a step in that direction with its Law 11/2007 on Public Electronic Access of Citizens to Public Electronic Services demands the use of Open Standards:
[10] Several countries have their own Interoperabilty Framework, as can be seen here:
[11] Several EC Programmes force projects to use proprietary software formats, such as the Seventh Framework Programme with its Windows-only GPF (Grant Preparation Form), CPF Editor and Form C Editor, the Lifelong Learning Programme with its application forms that can only be opened with Adobe software, and Microsoft software including macro’s. See for example: and