Brussels, Belgium, 22 November 2006 – The European Commission has welcomed the agreement reached on November 21 by the European Parliament and the Council in Conciliation on a directive creating INSPIRE – Infrastructure for spatial information in Europe.
The INSPIRE Directive is now likely to be enforced from summer 2007. The directive has been designed to control various aspects of the spatial data in the possession of authorities around Europe, including: creation of metadata, technical developments promoting interoperability, use of data services, principles on access to data and the related charges, and national co-ordination.
The implementation of the directive will be a considerable challenge for the authorities who maintain electronic maps and spatial databases on the themes specified in the annexes to the directive. Metadata will have to be regularly updated, and existing information should be made more widely available through harmonised electronic data services, although the directive does not require any new data to be collected.
To implement the directive, interest groups will have to collaborate closely on the development of common official practices. This will affect the work of the authorities at many levels, right down to municipal administrators. The European Commission has estimated that the measures needed to implement the new directive will cost member states a total of around 3-5 million euros a year over a period of about ten years.
The new directive sets obligations on what the public authorities of the Member States do with the data they collect. It was proposed by the Commission in 2004 but some Member States had difficulties with provisions requiring their public authorities to take a more open approach to the data they hold. The directive will now be formally adopted early next year and the Member States will then have two years to transpose it into national law.
“This is a good first step in moving towards a more open attitude to data policy within the EU. This is crucial if we are to make full use of the possibilities offered by modern information technology to support our policies”, said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. “Good policy depends on good information, and this directive will help improve both the availability and the consistency of the information we need.”
The most controversial issues in the conciliation talks between Council and Parliament had to do with intellectual property rights, statistical confidentiality, how to charge the public for viewing data, and under what conditions data providers can charge other public authorities for data. It is on these issues that an agreement has finally been found.
Public authorities holding data covered by the directive will have to share their data with other public authorities (e.g. EU institutions). They must allow the public to view data for free and buy the data for download and use over the Internet, and must comply with technical implementing rules to improve consistency.
INSPIRE will provide “meta-data” making it easier to search for the data and to assess its quality and potential use. Detailed technical rules will be developed for a wide range of spatial data themes in order to make it easier for different data sets to be combined.
For example, it will make it possible to combine emissions or environmental quality data with other types of geographical information (e.g. data on air quality can be combined with data on population density and epidemiological data to assess the health impacts of air pollution and target emission reductions). A portal will be developed to provide a single entry point for users to access the data.
INSPIRE will strengthen the knowledge base for environmental policy and make it more accessible to citizens, stakeholders and decision-makers. The directive will cover a very wide range of spatial data ranging from basic mapping information, such as geographical names and administrative units, to key environmental information such as emissions, environmental quality and location of protected sites. At present, this type of data is not always available, nor is it always consistent enough for designing and implementing environmental policy.