This is very good news for the open data movement. Earlier today Commissioners Hahn and Andor presented the European Commission proposals for the new Structural Funds regulations for the period 2014-2020. The new general regulation includes an article that force EU countries and regions to open up their data on projects and beneficiaries of Regional Policy. EU Regional Policy (or Cohesion Policy) is worth € 376 billion, more than a third of the entire budget of the Union.
In the last few months, technical and policy recommendations on how to improve the rules of this policy concerning transparency were provided by two studies (one commissioned by the European Parliament and the other by the DG Regional Policy [pdf]) and one independent web-based survey. Plus, organizations such as Transparency International advocated better rules and practices, such as the creation of a centralized website that contains all EU funds beneficiaries and that publishes the data respecting the 8 principles of Open Government Data.
The good news is that most of these recommendations have been incorporated in the drafts of the new regulations. In particular, Art. 105 (Chapter II, Information and Communication) states that EU countries “shall in order to ensure transparency in the support of the Funds maintain a list of operations by operational programme and by Fund in CSV or XML format which shall be accessible through the single website or the single website portal providing a list and summary of all operational programmes in that Member State”. It has been demostrated that the presence of a single website covering all data from the local institutions will likely improve the performance of the country in terms of transparency.
The minimum set of information to be provided – currently limited to three items – has been extended to cover new interesting data such as postcodes of beneficiaries. The data fields that must be included are listed in Annex V:
- Beneficiary name (only legal entities; no natural persons shall be named);
- Operation name;
- Operation summary;
- Operation start date;
- Operation end date (expected date for physical completion or full implementation of the operation);
- Total eligible expenditure allocated to the operation;
- EU co-financing rate (as per priority axis);
- Operation postcode;
- Name of category of intervention for the operation;
- Date of last update of the list of operations.
- The headings of the data fields and the names of the operations shall be also provided in at least one other official language of the European Union.
In my opinion, this proposal is probably a good compromise between the need to introduce new, more transparent ways to publish data and the current level of technical and administrative capacity of EU regions. However, a few important features characterizing real open data are still missing. For example the data should be released in a linked-data formats such as the RDF. Plus, a clear indication of the license under which the data are released should be provided. Introducing these features now – even though the RDF format seems now pretty advanced – is particularly important seeing that it is rather difficult to modify a multi-annual regulation once it is approved.
Obviously it will be crucial to monitor the actual implementation of these rules across the European Union. Luckily, official regulations have demonstrated to be a powerful tool, far more persuasive than other initiatives, such as the European Transparency Initiative, undertaken by the Commission after the approval of the official regulations. As already demonstrated, the level of compliance with regulations among EU agencies is extremely high, given that the Commission has the power to stop the flow of money from the EU to the Regions if these rules are broken.