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The issue

Public sector information 1 plays a fundamental role in the proper functioning of the internal market and the free circulation of goods, services and people. Without user-friendly and readily available administrative, legislative, financial or other public information, economic actors cannot make fully informed decisions.

Public information in Europe is often fragmented and dispersed and so in many instances it is less clear than intended. This situation is mainly due to differing national legislation 2 on the ways information can be accessed and exploited, and to various practices which hamper the availability of data. The issue at stake is not that Member States should produce more information, but that the information which is already available to the public should be clearer and more accessible to potential users.

The ready availability of public information is an absolute prerequisite for the competitiveness of European industry. In this respect, EU companies are at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to their American counterparts, which benefit from a highly developed, efficient public information system at all levels of the administration. 3 The timely availability of public sector information is also increasingly important to further the networked economy and valorise its economic potential.

In Europe the issue is particularly crucial to SMEs, which have fewer resources to devote to an often difficult search for fragmented information. Ultimately, this has a negative bearing on job creation. The same goes for the difficulties European content firms encounter in comparison to their American counterparts as far as the exploitation of public sector information is concerned.

Moreover, in today’s economy and society in which the Euro fosters the integration process, the fact that EU citizens and consumers cannot make better use of public information available in other EU Member States is something of an anachronism. In effect, this situation constitutes a challenge to the rights of citizens under the EC Treaties.

Whereas the increasing use of electronic media to store and to disseminate public sector information can serve to improve this situation, this has also tended to magnify still further the differences that already exist between Member States. Certain Member States have begun to examine the effects of new technologies on the public service and in particular on access to and exploitation of public sector information. 4

This topic is also important for the enlargement of the EU, where candidate Member States will have to adapt their legal systems and public services to comply with the requirements of the EU membership. Better access to public sector information will contribute to this process.

The need for launching a concerted debate at the European level is now more clear and urgent than ever. The objective of this Green Paper is to undertake a broad public consultation involving all the actors concerned with a view to examining the main issues at stake and also to triggering a political discussion at European level. The Green Paper draws on the results of an extensive preliminary consultation process that started in June 1996 and has involved representatives from the Member States, from citizens’ and users’ groups and from the private sector and more specifically the information industry. All those consulted considered it appropriate to launch a debate on this issue.

The subjects addressed in the Green Paper were drawn from the results of this extensive consultation. The reactions to this Green Paper and to the questions it poses will guide future action on this issue. It is clear that further discussion and an exchange of best practice will be necessary with the Member States and the other key actors.

Some issues may require technical solutions; some may be dealt with by improving administrative procedures; others will require political solutions. Depending on the results of the public consultation process, proposals for action could be formulated by the Commission to improve the situation at European level in specific fields. Such proposals will, of course, only be considered where consistent with the subsidiarity and proportionality principles. The type and intensity of any response must be limited to what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties.

Nothing in this Green Paper, nor in any future action which it might lead to, should be seen as an attempt to prejudice national rules governing the system of property ownership, nor the role of any public body in the Member States.

All interested parties, both from the public and private sectors, are strongly encouraged to provide their views on the issues raised in this document. The Commission would be pleased to provide additional background information on existing Commission or national access to public information policies upon request. Answers, comments and requests should be sent to the following address before 1st June 1999.

European Commission
Attn. Mr. Huber
Head of Unit DG XIII/E-1
Office 1174
Rue Alcide de Gasperi
L-2920 Luxembourg
E-mail address:

Hard copies of all submissions will be made available at the conclusion of the consultation, unless a request for confidentiality is received. A Web site has been opened for the posting of both the Green Paper and submissions received at the address:

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