Openize Denmark, Parliament Orders

On Friday (June 2, 2006), the Danish Parliament (Folketinget) had its last session before the Summer break, and on a very long agenda, the very last issue (#57) was the second and last reading of Morten Helveg‘s Proposal for Parliamentary Resolution on Open Standards (B103). I posted a bit about it earlier this week, and said then that it was still pending, and that it was opposed by the Government. That was accurate information as of a week ago.

But politics is the art of changing things, and over the last week, crafty politicians have been at work, and changed things. Morten Helveg pushed for settlement, and then Danish People’s Party’s Morten Messerschmidt and Jørgen Dohrman put their fingerprint on the resolution with an ammendment, so a majority vote would be reached. And to cut a long story (see below) short, on Friday afternoon, the Parliament voted and decided the following resolution (my translation):

Parliament imposes on the government a duty to ensure that the public sector’s use of IT, including use of software, is based on open standards.

The Government should adopt and maintain a set of open standards by 1 January 2008, or as soon as technically possible, which can serve as an inspiration for the rest of the public sector. Open standards should be part of public IT and software procurement with the object of promoting competition.

The Government should ensure that all digital information and data that the public sector exchanges with citizens, companies and institutions, are available in open standards based formats.

Note that the translation is mine, and might not be 100% accurate. It for example differs slightly from the one provided on Groklaw. Furthermore, the original decision in Danish is actually not now available yet in the Parliament’s public information system (case file here, around 50 documents, in Danish), so be advised that a formal translation of the decision is, well, pending.

The challenge is not just one of language nuances between Danish and English, but indeed also one of interpretation of the resolution itself, and of its reach and scope in particular. And here caution is an absolute necessity, because we know how distorted things in our field always get.

A few specific observations:

  1. Anne Østergaard’s Denmark to follow in the foot steps of Massachuchets on open standards is flawed, in my opinion. The decision does not say that the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation has to make a law proposal in the next session of Folketinget.
  2. Søren Thing Pedersen’s Denmark mandates open standards by 2008 is accurate enough, but only because mandation can mean many things. I do agree with Søren in his assessment, though. Also, check his site for a link to a video with the 30 minute reading in Parliament.
  3. Jeff Kaplan’s Looking for IT Leaders? Try Denmark is a must read.

At any rate, Friday was indeed a good day for the Danish IT policy, as Morten Helveg also said during the reading in Parliament. On Saturday, he made a post tited Victory! (Sejr!) in his blog. He writes (my translation):

But it was a bizarre procedure. Wednesday afternoon, the Liberals attempted to outvote the resolution’s formal vote-taking. Completely uheard of! Then the Standing Orders Committee intervened to ensure that I of course could get my resolution to a vote in Parliament.

A majority without the Government was established with Danish People’s Party, and then the Liberals and the Conservatives turned on a dime. Even if it was a pitiful attempt to demean the resolution made by the Liberals, considering they would vote for the resolution. It didn’t make sense. I think it was pretty clear to everyone who saw the debates that the Liberals were out on a limb.

On Thursday before the Parliament session, Michael Aastrup Jensen from the Liberals made a press announcement where he announced that the Liberals would vote for the resolution. The argument put forward is that the proposal carries good intentions. But Jensen also argues that the resolution will have no effects, and that the Liberals would have wanted to go even further. During the reading session, his tone sharpened, and he called the resolution “empty symbol politics of the worst kind”.

Helge Sander, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, is from the Liberals. On August 15, he has invited the IT-spokespersons from Parliament to a meeting, where he according to Jensen will present how the Government wants to proceed.

In conclusion, the vote in Parliament ended in an unanimous decision, but not in fence-mending. Quite the contrary, actually.

But at the end of the day, and that’s what counts, Denmark is now a nation who has a parliamentary mandate for open standards. Thank you to the three Mortens: Morten Helveg, Morten Messerschmidt and Morten Østergaard, and to Jørgen Dohrman and Anne Grete Holmsgaard for carrying this through, and thanks also to Michael Aastrup Jensen and Helge Sander, and all other MPs for voting for this historic resolution!

Bonus news: In the report from the Science Committee, one can read that there’s more to ODF in Denmark: Also the Ministry of Finance will from September 1, 2006 publish its new publications in ODF “unless certain contractual or content-related conditions occur”. The Government aims to have 3-4 or more ministries in the pilot launched by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

So, we will have concrete ODF adoption projects in Denmark. Now. Very exciting! Kudos to Helge Sander for rolling that showball! Why didn’t you make decisions like that when I worked for you? Allow me to give you a hint: You know about Massachusetts, right? Did you know that they recently made a Request for Information (RFI) titled “OpenDocument Format Plug-in for Microsoft Office Suite”, and got some very interesting response? You should get your guys to talk to guys in Massachusetts. You could also make your own RFI, of course.

Danish readers: I posted more over at my Danmark 2.0 blog.

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  • John – Was there any noticable lobbying or pressure on your legislators to vote against the proposed law by software vendors? I’m curious because had this issue come up in the American Congress, it is sure bet that these entities (Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) would apply immense pressure and funds to get a bill crafted to their liking – if one would pass at all. I don’t know how your politics works over there in Denmark, but I’m very interested to learn how the vendors acted while this was on your Parliament’s docket.

    Best regards,
    Bob McIlree

  • First, please note that there is no new law; it is a parliamentary resolution. In many ways I see a resolution as more powerful than a law.

    Lobbying? Of course there was lobbying. On the official record is only Microsoft. They requested a meeting with the Science Committee, and presented their views on open standards at a (closed) meeting on May 24. In the letter they wrote to the committee, Microsoft informs the committee that Office Open XML is an open document standard. Talk about cutting to the chesse; nevermind that the resolution is not (just) about document formats.

    Microsoft argued that they wanted to dicuss with the committee how to ensure as much freedom of choice to citizens and businesses in their communication with government, i.e., the old “one standard is good, but two are better” song.

  • […] It is a general resolution on the use of open standards in the public sector by 2008 (or ASAP). Though there are no direct references to ODF the political discussion has more often than not been on the subject of the need for open document format. In the proposal an open standard is defined as “1) well documented, 2) freely implementable without economical, political or legal limitations in both implementation and use, 3) standardised and maintained in an open proces in an open forum.” (again, my translation). I have noticed that the wording is similar to the definition of open standards from a group of Danish NGOs (in english). Currently, members of parliament are discussing what impact the resolution might or might not have. This is mainly interior politics.  If you are interested in Danish interior politics and the debate leading to the parliament resolution John Gøtze has it well covered in Openize Denmark, Parliament Orders. In his post you will find an accurate translation of the resolution as well. […]

  • […] Three politicians from Parliament, Morten Helveg, Morten Messerschmidt and Anne Grete Holmsgaard, participated in the press conference about the report on Monday. These three were the driving forces behind B103, the Parliamentary decision about open standards. All three expressed satisfaction with and support to the report’s recommendations. Messerschmidt even offered to personally bring it over to the Minister of Finance, who on Tuesday will present the Annual Budget. […]

  • […] On Friday, the Danish Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Helge Sander, made a press announcement (Danish) about his plan for following up on the Parliament Resolution 8 months ago. […]

  • […] and the political debate leading to the parliament resolution John Gøtze has it well covered in Openize Denmark, Parliament Orders. In his post you will find an accurate translation of the resolution as […]

  • […] resolución ha llevado un largo proceso de enmiendas, cambios y debates en el Parlamento Danés, ya que en un principio el Gobierno (conservador-liberal) no apoyaba la […]

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