COM(98)585final, adopted on 20 January 1999


1 The definition of the public sector is an issue for discussion and is further analysed in Chapter III. However, state-owned companies operating under market conditions and subject to private and commercial considerations are clearly not meant to be covered by this Green Paper.

2 See summary of legislation in Annexe 1

3 Since the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966, the US government has pursued a very active policy of both access to and commercial exploitation of public sector information. This has greatly stimulated the development of the US information industry. Annexe 3 gives a picture of the current legal framework in the US.

4 e.g. The UK's Freedom of Information White Paper, the Dutch memorandum `Towards the Accessibility of Government Information' and the French Action Programme "Preparing France's entry into the Information Society"

5 See for example the Single Market Scoreboard of May 1998, p.14ff.

6 The language engineering activities in Framework Programme IV and V for R&D address the technological aspects of this issue. The R&D-actions are complemented by the market oriented MLIS programme: multiannual programme to promote the linguistic diversity of the Community in the Information Society, O.J. N L306, 28.11.1996, p. 40.

7 `Listening to Citizens; The difficulties that people face in exercising their rights within the Single European Market'.

8 ` Ibidem. This report contains more example where lack of information makes life difficult for European citizens that exercise their internal market rights.

9 See the Second report of the European Commission on Citizenship of the Union, COM/97/230 final.

10 Conclusions of Cardiff Council, 15/16 June 1998

11 New article 191a of the EC Treaty provides that :

  1. "Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office ina Member State, shall have a right of access to European Parliament, Council and Commissiondocuments, subject to the principles and the conditions to be defined in accordance withparagraphs 2 and 3.
  2. General principles and limits on grounds of public or private interest governing this right of access to documents shall be determined by the Council, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 189b within two years of the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam.
  3. Each institution referred to above shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents."
Declaration no. 17 attached to the Maastricht Treaty had already prepared the field for this development.

12 The Special sectorial report on public procurement, November 1997, illustrates the importance of access to information for this issue. See the report on European Commission, DG XV web site at the address

13 `Managing change', High level group on economic and social implications of industrial change, Final Report, November 1998. The Special European Council of Luxembourg (21-22 November 1997) invited this Group to analyse industrial changes in the EU and to look at ways of anticipating and dealing with change and its economic and social effects.

14 For a further analysis on recent trends and critical roles of content and the content industry within the network economy, see CONDRINET Study (CONtent and Commerce DRIven Strategies in Global NETworks), October 1998, commissioned by the European Commission and conducted by Gemini Consulting.

15 European Information Technology Observatory, 1998, Content data include media, publishing, marketing and advertising sectors.

16 INFO2000 programme (Council decision of 20 May 1996, O.J. N L 129, 30.5.1996, p. 24)

17 "Job opportunities in the Information Society: Exploiting the potential of the information revolution" COM (1998) 590 final.

18 "Job opportunities in the Information Society: Exploiting the potential of the information revolution" COM (1998) 590 final.

19 Directive 90/313/EEC on the freedom of access to environment information excludes from the definition of public sector, bodies acting in a judicial or legislative capacity. It provides that national, regional or local public authorities having responsibilities and holding information relating to the environment should place this information at the disposal of any natural or legal person requesting it, regardless of whether that person has a legal interest. As its purpose is to promote the protection of the environment, commercial issues are not addressed. Specific provisions of this Directive are referred to in appropriate sections of Chapter II. Any actions resulting from this Green Paper will not prejudice access to information concerning the environment as provided for by this Directive, which will possibly be reviewed in 1999, nor the relevant "acquis communautaire".

20 See footnote 19, p 11

21 BDO Consultants, Electronische bestanden van het bestuur, 1998

22 article 92

23 article 86

24 article 85

25 article 90

26 within the meaning of Article 92(1)

27 not only under Articles 92(2) and 92(3) (categories of aid that are or may be considered compatible with the common market), but also under Article 90(2) if the undertaking is entrusted with a service of general economic interest. In the latter case, all of the conditions of Article 90(2) would have to be fulfilled : the undertaking must be entrusted with a service of general economic interest ; the amount of the aid must not exceed the net cost of ensuring the service of general economic interest ; and the development of trade must not be affected to such an extent as would be contrary to the interests of the Community.

28 O.J. N L281, 23.11.1995, pp. 31-50

29 The proposal for a directive on certain legal aspects of electronic commerce in the Internal market submitted by the Commission on 18 November 1998 recognises the need to clarify the responsibility of on-line service providers for transmitting and storing third party information (i.e. when service providers act as "intermediaries") in the context of commercial communications. To eliminate the existing legal uncertainty and to bring coherence to the different approaches that are emerging at Member State level, the proposal establishes a "mere conduit" exemption and limits service provider's liability for other "intermediary" activities.