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Brussels, 20 January 1999

Green Paper on Public-Sector Information in the Information Society

The European Commission has decided to publish a Green Paper on how the information gathered by government departments and other public bodies can be used to provide the greatest benefit for citizens and businesses in Europe. A lot of information gathered by public bodies for carrying out their duties could be used by the multimedia industry for developing new products and services. Citizens could make better use of their rights if, for example, information was readily available on the conditions for working, studying or living as a pensioner in other Member States. Many people would like to have full information on the tax regulations for cross-border purchases. The competitiveness of businesses could be increased if they had a quick and easy means of finding out what the regulations and procedures are for exporting to other countries. All this information exists, but the technical and legal procedures and terms under which the Member States make it available are uncoordinated and therefore not very transparent for citizens and business. The Green Paper calls for these matters to be discussed and asks questions about how the situation can be improved. The Commission asks for replies to be sent in by 1 June 1999.

The Green Paper, which was drawn up at the suggestion of Martin Bangemann, the Member of the Commission responsible for questions relating to the information society, stems from a consultation process which started as long ago as June 1996. Together with the Member States and representatives of citizens, users, private industry and in particular the content producers, the Commission has investigated how the mass of non-confidential information available to public bodies can best be used for the benefit of citizens and businesses.

European industry is at a disadvantage vis-à-vis its competitors in the United States, where a "Freedom of Information Act" was passed as long ago as 1966, since when American public bodies have granted access free of charge or for a small fee to powerful, highly developed information systems.

In Europe too Member States are beginning to follow this course, but their strategies, legal frameworks and systems are uncoordinated and therefore often not very user-friendly or transparent.

The Green Paper does not suggest that the Member States should gather or publish more information but that the existing information which is accessible in principle should be made available for use on more transparent and simpler terms. In some cases that will require better technical arrangements, while in others administrative procedures can be simplified and improved. It will often be necessary to find political solutions.

In the Commission’s view a contribution at European level to finding these solutions could come from:

  • discussions on whether legislative measures, recommendations, guidelines or other binding regulations would be of use,
  • organising a Europe-wide exchange of experience,
  • measures to inform citizens, businesses and administrative departments about existing sources of information,
  • demonstration and pilot projects for testing new technologies, new information services and new models for private/public partnerships,
  • education and training measures.

In all this the Commission wants to respect the principle of subsidiarity.

To get discussions going, the Green Paper puts a number of questions, including:

  • How should the concept of "public sector information" best be defined? (Definitions in Europe have hitherto been varied.)
  • What new barriers are created at European level by the fact that the conditions for access to this information differ from one Member State to another? What solutions are available?
  • Could the establishment of a European directory of the information that is available be of help to European citizens and businesses? How could this best be carried out ? What categories of content should such directories contain?
  • What are the consequences of the fact that the Member States have different pricing policies for information of this kind?
  • Can the use of information provided by public-sector bodies lead to unfair competition?
  • What are the copyright, data-protection and liability implications?

The Commission invites all interested parties to send in their replies to these questions and contributions to the discussion by 1 June 1999. The e-mail address is: The Green Paper can be found on the Internet at:

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