This week the draft implementation act (PDF) and annex listing the first batch of European High Value Data sets (PDF) has finally been published. In the first half of 2020 I was involved in preparatory research to advise on what data, spread across six predetermined themes, should be put on this mandatory list. It’s the first time open data policy makes the publication of certain data mandatory through an API. Until now European open data policy built upon the freedom of information measures of each EU Member State (MS), and added mandatory conditions to what MS published voluntarily, and to how to respond to public data re-use requests. This new law arranges for the pro-active publication of certain data sets.
In the 2020 research I was responsible for the sections about earth observation, environmental, and meteorological data. We submitted our final report in September 2020, and since then there had been total silence w.r.t. the progress in negotiating the list with the MS, and putting together the implementation act. I knew that at least the earth observation and environmental data would largely be included the way I suggested, when last summer I got a sneak preview of the adaptation of the INSPIRE portal where such data is made available.
The Implementation Act
In the Open Data Directive there’s a provision that the European Commission can, through a separate implementation act, set mandatory open data requirements for data belonging to themes listed in the Directive’s Annex. At launch in 2019, 6 such themes were listed: Geo-information, statistics, mobility, company information, earth observation / environment, and meteorology.
The list of themes can also be amended, through another separate implementation act, and a process to determine the second set of themes is currently underway.
MS can temporarily exempt some of the high value datasets, a decision that must be made public, but limited to two years after entry into force of this implementation act. Additional usage restrictions are allowed for personal data within the data sets concerned, but only to the extent needed to protect personal data of individuals (so not as an excuse to disallow re-use and access to the data as a whole).
MS must report on their implementation actions every two years, in which they need to list the actual data sets opened, the links to licenses, API and documentation, and exemptions still in place. The implementation is immediately binding for all MS (no need to first transpose into national law to be enforcable), will apply 20 days after publication in the EU Journal, and MS have 6 months to comply.
The Data Sets Per Theme
In this first batch of mandatory open data, 6 themes are covered (PDF). Some brief remarks on all of them.
This is, contrary to what you’d expect, the smallest theme of the six covered. Because everything that is already covered in the Intelligent Transport (ITS) Directive is out of scope, which is most of everything concerning land based mobility. What remains for the High Value Data list is data on transport networks contained in the INSPIRE Annex I theme Transport Networks, and static and dynamic data about inland waterways, as well as the electronic navigational charts (ENC) for inland waterways. This is much in line with the 2020 study report. There was some concern with national hydrographical services about ENCs for seas being included (making it harder to force sea going vessels to use the latest version), but my reassurances that it would be unlikely held true.
Geospatial data is I would say the ‘original’ high value government data, and has been for centuries. The data sets from the four INSPIRE Annex I themes Administrative Units, Geographical Names, Addresses, Buildings and Cadastral Parcels are within scope. Additionally reference parcels and agricultural parcels as described in the 1306/2013 and 1307/2013 Regulations on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are on the list.
Earth Observation and Environment
This was a theme I was responsible for in the 2020 study. It is an extremely broad category, covering a very wide spectrum of types of data. It was basically impossible to choose something from this list, not in the least because re-use value usually comes from combinations of data, not from any single source used. Therefore my proposed solution was to not choose, and advise to treat it as a coherent whole needed in addressing the EU goals concerning environment/nature, climate adaptation, and pollution. The High Value Data list adopts this approach and puts 19 INSPIRE themes within scope. These are:
- Annex I: Hydrography, and Protected Sites
- Annex II in full: Elevation, Geology, Land Cover, and Ortho-imagery
- Annex III: Area management, Bio-geographical regions, Energy resources, Environmental monitoring facilities, Habitats and biotopes, Land use, Mineral resources, Natural risk zones, Oceanographic geographical features, Production and industrial facilities, Sea regions, Soil, and Species distribution
Additionally all environmental information as covered by the 2003/4/EC Directive on public access to such information is added to the list, and all data originating in the context of a wide range of EU Regulations and Directives on air, climate, emissions, nature preservation and biodiversity, noise, waste and water. I miss soil in this environmental list, but perhaps the Annex III INSPIRE theme is seen as sufficiently covering it. I still need to follow up on the precise formulations w.r.t. data in 31 additionally referenced regulations and directives.
What to me is a surprising phrasing is that earth observation is defined here including satellite based data. Not surprising in terms of earth observation itself, but because satellite data was specifically excluded from the scope of our 2020 study. First because the EU level satellite data is already open. Second because this list deals with data from MS, and not many MS have their own satellite data. When they do it is usually the result of public private collaborative investment, and such private investment may dry up if there are no longer temporary exclusive access arrangements possible, which would have resulted in considerable political objections. Perhaps adding space based data collection is currently being well enough watered down by defining the INSPIRE themes as its scope, while at the same time future proofing the definition for when satellite data does become part of INSPIRE themes.
Together these first three, mobility, geospatial, and EO/environment, place a full 24 out of 34 INSPIRE themes on the list for mandatory open data. This basically amounts to adding an open data requirement to INSPIRE. It places MS’ INSPIRE compliance very much in the focus of attention, which now often is limited, and further positions INSPIRE as a key building block in the coming Green Deal dataspace. It will be of high interest to see what the coming new version of the INSPIRE directive, currently under review, makes of all that.
This topic is more widely covered in the High Value Data list, than it was in the 2020 study, both in the types of statistics included, and in the demands made of those types of statistics. Still there are lots of statistics that MS hold, that aren’t included here (while some MS do publish most of their statistics already btw): the selection is based on European reporting obligations that follow from a list of various European laws.
Topics for which statistics must be published as open data in a specified way:
- Industrial production
- Industrial producer price index, by activity
- Volume of sales by activity
- EU international trade in goods
- Tourism flows in Europe
- Harmonised consumer prices indices
- National accounts: GDP, key indicators on corporations and households
- Government expenditure and revenue, government gross debt
- Population, fertility, mortality
- Current healthcare expenditure
- Employment, unemployment, potential labour force
Data for these reporting obligations should be available from the moment the law creating them has been in force. That means for instance that healthcare expenditure should be available from at least 2008, whereas employment statistics must be available from at least 2019, because of the different years in which these laws were enacted.
Company information from the start has been the most controversial theme of the six covered by this implementation act. I assume this theme has also been the prime political reason for the long delay in the proposal being published. In my perception because this is the only data set that actually might end up challenging the status quo in society (as it involves ownership and power structures, and touches tax evasion). In the 2020 study four aspects were considered, the basic company information, company documents and accounts, ownership information, and insolvency status. Two ended up in the draft law: basic company information and company documents. Opening ownership information, not even the ultimate beneficial ownership (UBO) information, from the start drew vehement objections (including from the Dutch government). Many stakeholders (including the NGO I chair) are disappointed with the current outcome. (Here’s an old blogpost where I explain UBO, and here’s SF writer Brin on what transparent UBO might mean to our societies.) The data that will become open data still may be 2 years in the future: the Open Data Directive allows a 2 year exemption, and this is the data where that exemption will be used I think.
That said, mandatory open company data and documents, even with the delay through exemptions, is already a step forward that puts an end to literally decades of court cases, obstruction, and lobbying for more openness. The very first PSI Directive in 2003 was already an expression of a broad demand for this data, now 20 years on it finally becomes mandatory across the EU. Some people I know have been after this for their entire professional careers and already retired. It’s easy to loose sight of that win when we only focus on not having (ultimate) ownership data included.
This is the other theme I was responsible for in the 2020 study. Like with company information this is an area where the discussion about making it available for re-use is decades old and precedes digitisation becoming ubiquitous. When I started my open data work in 2008, most of the existing documentation and argumentation for the value of and need for open data concerned meteorological data. A range of EU countries already have this as open data, others not at all. While progress has been made in the past decades, the High Value Data list provides a blanket obligation for all EU MS, a result that would otherwise still be a very long time away if entirely voluntary for the MS involved.
Data included here includes all weather observation data, validated observations / climate data, radar data (useful for things like cloud heights, precipitation and wind), and numerical weather prediction data (these are the outputs of the combined models used for predictions).
The implementation act is up for public feedback until 21 June, but likely will retain its current form. I think it’s a pretty good result, and I am happy that I have been able to contribute to it.