In 20 years of EU digital policy in Brussels, I have seen growing awareness and recognition among policymakers in Europe of the importance of open source software (OSS). A recent keynote by EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton at the annual EU Open Source Policy Summit in February provides another example—albeit with a sense of urgency and strategic opportunity that has been largely missing in the past.
Commissioner Breton did more than just recognize the "long list of [OSS] success stories." He also underscored OSS's critical role in accelerating Europe's €750 billion recovery and the goal to further "embed open source" into Europe's longer-term policy objectives in the public sector and other key industrial sectors.
In addition to the commissioner's celebration that "Linux is powering the internet," there was a policy-related call to action to expand the OSS value proposition to many other areas of digital sovereignty. Indeed, with only 2.5 years of EU Commission mandate remaining, there is a welcome sense of urgency. I see three possible reasons for this: 1. fresh facts and figures, 2. compelling policy commitments, and 3. game-changing investment opportunities for Europe.
1. Fresh facts and figures
Commissioner Breton shared new facts and figures to better inform policymakers in Brussels and all European capitals. The EU's new Open Source Study reveals that the "economic impact of OSS is estimated to have been between €65 and €95 billion (2018 figures)" and an "increase of 10% [in code contributions] would generate in the future around additional €100 billion in EU GDP per year."
This EU report on OSS, the first since 2006, builds nicely on several other recent open source reports in Germany (from Bitkom) and France (from CNLL/Syntec), recent strategic IT analysis by the German federal government, and the Berlin Declaration's December 2020 pledge for all EU member states to "implement common standards, modular architectures, and—when suitable—open source technologies in the development and deployment of cross-border digital solutions" by 2024, the end of current EU Commission's mandate.
2. Compelling policy commitments
Commissioner Breton's growth and sovereignty questions seemed to hinge on the need to bolster existing open source adoption and collaboration—notably "how to embed open source into public administration to make them more efficient and resilient" and "how to create an enabling framework for the private sector to invest in open source."
I would encourage readers to review the various panel discussions from the Policy Summit that address many of the important enabling factors (e.g., establishing open source program offices [OSPOs], open standards, public sector sharing and reuse, etc.). These will be tackled over the coming months with deeper dives by OpenForum Europe and other European associations (e.g., Bitkom's Open Source Day on 16 September), thereby bringing policymaking and open source code and collaboration closer together.
3. Game-changing investments
The European Parliament recently approved the final go-ahead for the €750 billion Next Generation European Union (NGEU) stimulus package. This game-changing investment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to realize longstanding EU policy objectives while accelerating digital transformation in an open and sustainable fashion, as "each plan has to dedicate at least 37% of its budget to climate and at least 20% to digital actions."
During the summit, great insights into how Europe's public sector can further embrace open innovation in the context of these game-changing EU funds were shared by OFE and Digital Europe speakers from Germany, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, FIWARE, and Red Hat. 2021 is fast becoming a critical year when this objective can be realized within the public sector and industry.
A call to action
Commissioner Breton's recognition of Linux is more than another political validation that "open source has won." It is a call to action to collaborate to accelerate European competitiveness and transformation and is a key to sovereignty (interoperability within services and portability of data and workloads) to reflect key European values through open source.
Commissioner Breton is working closely with the EU executive vice president for a digital age, Margate Vestager, to roll out a swathe of regulatory carrots and sticks for the digital sector. Indeed, in the words of the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the recent Masters of Digital 2021 event, "this year we are rewriting the rule book for our digital internal market. I want companies to know that across the European Union, there will be one set of digital rules instead of this patchwork of national rules."
In another 10 years, we will all look back on the past year and ask ourselves this question: did we "waste a good crisis" to realize Europe's digital decade?