Open Source is the Key to European Leadership in the Next Wave of Digitisation

Open Source is the Key to European Leadership in the Next Wave of Digitisation

2021- 11- 23

More proactive promotion of and investment in Open Source Software (OSS) at the level of the European Union and national governments would not only boost economic growth in Europe. It would also stimulate innovation, facilitate the emergence of a successful European  information technology industry rooted in a wide ecosystem of Open Source companies and creators of all sizes and create jobs in the software sector and increase Europe’s ability to  determine and shape its own digital future. These were the clear conclusions of a recent study published by the European Commission.

More specifically, the study indicated that while the €1 billion or so that companies in the EU invested in OSS in 2018 already generated between €65 and €95 billion in economic growth, further increasing contributions of OSS code by 10% would annually generate an additional 0.4% to 0.6% GDP every year, as well as more than 600 additional start-ups in the EU’s information and communication  technologies sector. These figures confirm the very high potential returns on investment in OSS and the need for digital autonomy together with the extensive positive externalities of Open Source contributions to the economy justify a new level of policy engagement.

Open Source Software has been around ever since the use of computers started to grow in the 1960s. It’s based on open, collaborative innovation between software developers and users, allowing them to freely use, study, improve and share software. However, since the 1970s, the software industry has mostly relied on proprietary software, closed formats and network effects to strengthen the position of the industry incumbents as opposed to the users, be it an individual, a company or for that matter a government.

With proprietary software, the user is dependent on the vendor when it comes to compatibility with other software. Its users are locked in to a particular vendor, unable to shop around for better value software or products better adapted to their particular needs. In practice, the software market is currently dominated by a few very big, non-European companies. The dependence on the whims of these firms of foreign governments becomes even stronger as vendors of proprietary software are moving their offerings to the cloud, where they have even more control and can change features at any time. Looked at from a societal point of view, this strategic lock-in of all industries and  governments is the core of what undermines Europe’s digital sovereignty.

In contrast, Open Source licenses create the framework for software to freely evolve to address new challenges, to adapt to new circumstances and to develop more efficient applications. Users are given real choice. Any individual or company can come up with innovative solutions that are available to all interested developers and users, as Open Source does not impose any legal or contractual obstacles to cooperate. In other words, OSS allows competition and innovation to flourish so that software users in the public and private sectors can more easily access software products that best suit their needs at
reasonable cost, without strategic lock-in.

The Commission study confirms that there is already a vibrant OSS sector in Europe, with SMEs at the forefront of sectoral growth. There is a good foundation to build on. The key issue is therefore to identify public policies at EU and national level that would allow the European OSS sector to develop further, so as to realise its full potential, and for the European economy as a whole to achieve the full benefits of greater investment in OSS.

      We at APELL, the European Open Source Business Association, believe that the public policy priorities should be:

      1. Establishing specific Open Source strategies at EU-level and in each EU country focussed on boosting economic growth, innovation and digital sovereignty
      2. Prioritising Open Source in software procurement by the public and private sectors in a way hat it becomes impossible to create insurmountable vendor dependence
      3. Promoting investment in OSS, for example with support during the high-risk and R&D-intensive process of initial code to commercial revenue for SMEs and more general tax incentives for Open Source contributions
      4. Increasing public funding of specific and strategic Open Source projects, particularly for small and medium-sized companies, through existing programmes and new initiatives
      5. Place Open Source at the heart of digital skills strategies and computer science education across Europe, with the aim of boosting innovation in the long term

      The above areas would be the starting point in order to build the foundation for a new European digital industry to use open source for what it does best: innovate, disrupt and deliver digital sovereignty. Regardless of the digital area, be it Cloud, AI, Cybersecurity or IoT, Open Source Software is at the heart of the innovation and Europe has a chance to lead.

       

      On behalf of APELL (Association Professionnelle Européenne du Logiciel Libre), Europe’s
      Open Source Business Association:

      • Peter Ganten, OSBA, Germany
      • Stéfane Fermigier, CNLL, France
      • Timo Väliharju, COSS, Finland
      • Björn Lundell, Open Source Sweden, Sweden
      • Gerardo Lisboa, ESOP, Portugal
      • Ronny Lam, NLUUG, The Netherlands
      • Amanda Brock, OpenUK, United Kingdom
      About APELL

      A APELL (Association Professionnelle Européenne du Logiciel Libre) is an European association that aims to bring together European national associations that, like ESOP, represent Open Source companies. It aims to represent these associations and their members in the European institutions and contribute to the construction of European policies and in the member states in favor of Open Source, to contribute to the development of the industry and to a European digital agenda based on Open Source

      A APELL (Association Professionnelle Européenne du Logiciel Libre) is an European association that aims to bring together European national associations that, like ESOP, represent Open Source companies. It aims to represent these associations and their members in the European institutions and contribute to the construction of European policies and in the member states in favor of Open Source, to contribute to the development of the industry and to a European digital agenda based on Open Source