info2000 logo GREEN PAPER ON PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION
IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY

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The Meteorological Office - UK


21st May, 1999

I write on the joint behalves of fellow directors of the National Meteorological Services in Western Europe(1) to provide our views of the above.

As directors of the National Meteorological Services we co-operate under an informal grouping known as ICWED (Informal Conference of Western European Directors) - examining questions of common interest and co-ordinating our activities when deemed necessary and possible, including co-ordination in international forums such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations specialized agency.

The ICWED has been the driving force behind such initiatives as the creation of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (following on from a COST action in 1970), which is undoubtedly the world reference as far as medium-range global numerical weather forecasting is concerned, as well as being a remarkable example of the sharing of responsibilities between national meteorological services and a European co-operation organization, the latter having its headquarters in Reading in the UK. Another example of co-operation within Western Europe in the field of meteorology, with similarly strong direction and support from the National Meteorological National Services of Europe, led to the creation of EUMETSAT (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites) in Darmstadt, Germany. EUMETSAT has successfully established a weather satellite programme serving both operational weather forecasting and research needs; its operational data and products benefit both the European and the global weather forecasting communities, both public and private.

The ICWED has also played an influential role in gaining approval by the entire global meteorological community of a policy which aims to increase the exchange of meteorological data and products between Members of the WMO, by recognising the right of Members to attach certain conditions to the distribution of some of these data and products. The enabling process adopted unanimously by the 177185 members of the WMO at its XIIth Congress in 1995 is known in the meteorological community as "Resolution 40" (copy attached). For four years now the provisions of Resolution 40 have functioned satisfactorily - , allowing free access to meteorological information for the research and education community; , while at the same time permitting control over the use of such information for commercial purposes, in order to protect the rights of the Services which have produced the information; and encouraging an increase in international exchange of meteorological data and products . Besides which, on the basis of these principles, ICWED has produced, at a West European level, a policy for the exchange of data resulting in the EIG (Economic Interest Grouping) ECOMET. ECOMET is a grouping of European National Meteorological Services set up to both support and enhance the exchange of meteorological data and products; and at the same time to do this in a way which provides a basis of fair competition (a ‘level playing field’) for all those seeking to exploit such information commercially. The DG IV, in a note dated 29 September 1997, has indicated its intention to approve the policy of ECOMET.

In this context, we, as representatives of the West European National Meteorological Services, would like to assure you that we have studied carefully the "Green Paper”. You will therefore not be surprised that we pass to you some of our general observations concerning this publication.

Without going into the details of the text of Resolution 40, I should like to underline most strongly that there is no contradiction between the development of the exchange of data and products and their commercial exploitation. It seems to us inappropriate that the "Green Paper" indicates or gives the impression in various paragraphs that commercialisation constitutes a handicap or an obstacle to the distribution of data and products.

By means of the Resolution 40, member states of WMO, represented by government appointed permanent representatives, have established a system which carries with it a positive solution to what the "Green Paper" tends to present as conflicting interests. They have decided, in fact, that the principle of the free exchange of meteorological data and products should take place without any restriction other than that which may be appropriate in specific, limited situations. Three fundamental scenarios are provided for in the exchange of data and products under Res 40 provisions:

  • between the Member States of WMO, allowing National Meteorological Services to receive, throughout the world and free of charge, all meteorological data and products necessary for the accomplishment of their official missions;
  • provision to the scientific community, for the advancement of science and the improvement of the quality of meteorological products, notably forecasts of weather and projections of climate change, for the benefit of the world community ;
  • for the benefit of education activities, reflecting the wish of the National Meteorological Services to promote the science of meteorology.

Moreover, as regards other users of meteorology, the rules adopted also encourage a wide distribution, since many meteorological data and products, considered as "essential", are freely available, save for the marginal costs of distribution and delivery, even when intended for commercial use.

Whilst this mutual agreement between states does not have the legal status of an international treaty, it does constitute "good practice" agreed by an important world authority, since it has been adopted unanimously by all the members states of the World Meteorological Organization. In our opinion, this should be specifically recognised in the "Green Paper", by noting that, thus recording thatin the field of meteorology, all the necessary provisions are in place to ensure the full and proper availability of meteorological data and products; and that there is no need for new legislation., nor for particular attention by the European Commission.

The second observation I should like to make concerns paragraphs 92 and 97 where it is suggested - with reference to the tendency to be found on the Internet on the one hand, and the American example on the other - that the desirable trend for the distribution of public data should rest on the principle of free access to these data.

In this respect it is necessary to point out that almost all of the West European National Meteorological Services now find themselves in a position where they are requested by their governments to earn revenue, thereby lessening the burden on the tax-payer and increasing the contribution of the users of services provided.

As you no doubt are aware, the validity of this position has been recognised by the Commission (reference: an answer from K. Van Miert to a Question (E-3109/95) of the European deputy PEX ; in OJ of the EC C79/50, 18/3/1996)

I should like to point out that we would not agree with the arguments of paras 98 and 99 of the "Green Paper" in the context of meteorological provisions within Western Europe. The provision of value added services in meteorology based on public data should not be the exclusive preserve of the private sector, by the decisions of the great majority of West European governments. Experience in several countries represented by ICWED has shown that when the rules of fair competition are applied - as required under ECOMET provisions - the National Meteorological Services have continued to innovate and continue to provide the market with technologically advanced high quality services, which constitute a standard for all operators and a stimulus to competitive economic activity.

I should also like to deal with the issue in the "Green Paper" concerning the distinction between "data of a purely legislative, administrative or judicial nature" and "technical data", as regards the intellectual property rights attached thereto. It is quite clear that meteorological data and products do not enter the first category : their nature and their mode of production reveal them to be developed products, sometimes having a high economic value. In this sense, our National Meteorological Services cannot support the suggestion made in the "Green Paper" in paragraph 107 to "extend" the renunciation of copyright - or other Intellectual Property Rights - to such data and products. On the contrary, our services intend to make use of the new "sui generis" right, established by Directive 96/9/EC on Databases.

We hope that these considerations will help to clarify what is at stake for the National Meteorological Services of Western Europe concerning the proposals set out in the "Green Paper".

If any of the points raised above are unacceptable to you, I would be grateful if you could inform me as soon as possible.

Please let me know if you would like electronic copy of this submission.

P D Ewins 
Chief Executive, 
United Kingdom Meteorological Office 
on the joint behalves of fellow directors 
of the National Meteorological Services 
in Western Europe

(1) Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

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