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Debates
Monday, 6 June 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

15. Infrastructure for spatial information in the Community (INSPIRE)
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  President. The next item is the report by Mrs Brepoels, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing an infrastructure for spatial information in the Community (INSPIRE) (COM(2004)0516 – C6-0099/2004 – 2004/0175(COD)) (A6-0108/2005).

 
  
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  Dimas Stavros, Μember of the Commission. (EL) Mr President, first I should like to thank the European Parliament and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the rapporteur, Mrs Brepoels, for their work on this subject at first reading.

If we are to shape a good environmental policy, then we need to have good information. The directive being debated, therefore, will help considerably in improving this basic information infrastructure.

Indeed, the shaping of policy is frequently hampered by the fact that information is often not available in a form which enables it to be used. Often the data simply do not exist or they exist but are inadequately substantiated or of unsatisfactory quality. At other times, the information is fragmentary and comes in a variety of different forms and types, making it impossible to use it in order to shape policy at European level. In other cases, the information is in the hands of government agencies which do not wish to publish it. European policy-makers either come up against refusal to allow them to access the relevant information or are forced to accept onerous and costly licensing arrangements in order to obtain access to the data. As a result, our environmental policy is not based on knowledge to the maximum possible and desired extent. INSPIRE will help to remove these barriers by forcing government agencies to improve documentation and ensure that their data systems are interoperable. Similarly, they will share data with each other and with the public. In this way, the infrastructure of knowledge will be improved not only for environmental policy, but also in other policy areas which use the same geographical data.

Over the last six months, intensive discussions have been held between the three institutions in a bid to achieve agreement at the first reading of this subject. Unfortunately, however, this proved impossible, due to continuing concerns being put forward by certain Member States in connection with intellectual property rights. Nonetheless, I am particularly grateful for the persistence and attention with which Parliament, in other words the rapporteur, Mrs Brepoels, managed to reach an agreement with the Council. During these discussions, Parliament proved that it clearly understands the importance of removing the barriers to which I referred earlier, in order to improve the knowledge infrastructure for environmental policy.

 
  
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  Frederika Brepoels (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (NL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as the Commissioner has already indicated, there is indeed a great need for information and for better management of existing information flows. This applies to the European Union in general – as we have noticed at the referenda on the Constitution – but also to all Community policy areas, in particular. Despite decades of common European environmental policy, there is still evidence of major barriers blocking access and the use of spatial information at Community level. There are already quite a few instruments in place, including the European Environmental Agency, and new instruments are being developed in a number of directives that are related to this. In order to eliminate those shortcomings now, the Commission has made a proposal to set up and run an infrastructure for spatial information in Europe, which has been abbreviated to ‘Inspire’. It will in the first instance be based on existing data infrastructures and existing information in the Member States.

I can tell you, Commissioner, that we are right behind the proposal’s objectives and principles, because Inspire also seeks to give the public more insight into environmental policy and, in this respect, to increase the level of accountability at local and regional level. Inspire also seeks to promote the reuse, but above all the exchange and sharing, of data between governments, and, without doubt, to be a driving force behind the pooling of new relevant environmental information.

Finally, it will certainly also be instrumental in making environmental policy more efficient and effective across borders. The proposal relates to information needed to supervise the state of the environment, but also to improve on it, and can therefore benefit all policy measures that have a direct or indirect impact on the environment.

As you have already indicated, there has been an extensive debate in our Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. I can tell you that some Members see the proposal as not going far enough, while others believe that it went a little too far. We in this House thought we should make a number of constructive and useful amendments to this rather technical proposal in order to accommodate a number of justified concerns on the part of the current operators in the field, without, however, losing sight of the ultimate goal. I will mention a few of those amendments.

Our focus of attention was, in the first place, the cost-benefit issue. You know that data suppliers are concerned about the income which they want to continue to generate so as to promote innovation and development. I think it is important for Inspire not to get drawn into this debate on compensation for those suppliers. This remains an issue that must be resolved at Member State level.

Secondly, current European and international legislation concerning intellectual rights of ownership remains in place. It is prohibited to make reproductions, and data may not simply be sold on.

Thirdly, we also built in a number of guarantees for what is referred to as free-viewing, thus avoiding improper use for commercial reasons. It must also be made perfectly clear that at a cost, the download and the processing services can be made available upon request.

Finally, with a view to respecting the division of competence within the Member States, we also suggested a few changes, because we deem it important that the governments that collate this spatial information – those are, in many cases, the regional and local governments – are also involved in the coordination of the infrastructure and are also responsible for the contacts with the European Commission. I can tell you that in a very constructive consultation involving the shadow rapporteurs of all political groups, we managed to approve the report in our committee by unanimous vote.

A number of compromise amendments were tabled to ensure that Parliament’s position is coherent and unambiguous.

Finally, I should also like to thank the Commission for the support we received, not least during the informal talks with the Council, with the object of reaching agreement at first reading, which, unfortunately, we did not manage to achieve. Although this has represented a slight setback in terms of time, together, we have made huge strides forward. The informal talks with Coreper have already clarified and crystallised a number of ideas for the future. I therefore hope that tomorrow’s plenary will be approving this proposal with an equal dose of enthusiasm. It should enable us to take an important step in the direction of a more sustainable European environmental policy.

 
  
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  Richard Seeber, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, I would like to begin by thanking the Commission for its proposal and the rapporteur for her constructive report, which has improved on this Commission proposal in a number of important respects. The basic objective of compiling interoperable spatial data on a European scale is to be welcomed. The environment in particular demonstrates to us every day that it knows no national boundaries and neither positive nor negative effects stop at the border post.

The collection and use of data must be practicable, however. The rapporteur’s proposals have created clearer formulations and rules which greatly improve the proposal. Moreover, everyone in the Community will have access to the environmental data they want free of charge – a great step forward in bringing Europe closer to its citizens. By requiring the data to be coherent, it also makes this a practical possibility. It must also be clear, however, that if the data is not merely to be consulted but is to be used commercially a fee must be payable; anything else would not be fair to the very people who will have to produce the data, in particular local and municipal authorities. If the Member States decide differently about such payments, however, the subsidiarity principle makes that perfectly possible.

I also believe the rapporteur’s call for the proposal to be easy to understand and transparent is important. The comitology procedure called for by the Commission should therefore only be used in exceptional cases. The public has a right to know precisely how and where decisions have been taken and, above all, what the reasons for them were.

In conclusion, I can say that the rapporteur has with her proposal succeeded in bringing the Commission proposal closer to the citizen and introducing into it greater transparency, subsidiarity and practicability.

 
  
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  María Isabel Salinas García, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I too would like to begin by congratulating the rapporteur, as well as all the shadow rapporteurs, on their work and dedication in trying to improve this proposal for a Directive and on trying to reach a compromise — which has not been possible, but there has been an attempt — with the Council at first reading.

I will begin by pointing out that there are still currently certain significant problems in the Member States with regard to access to spatial information and its use, due, amongst other things, to the fragmentation of data sets and sources, gaps in availability, lack of harmonisation between data sets at different geographical scales and duplication of information collection. I therefore do not have the least doubt about the usefulness of this new instrument, which is fundamental to the drawing up, application, monitoring and evaluation of environmental policies at all levels and of policies or activities that may have a direct or indirect impact on the environment. We in my group are therefore pleased that the Member States can guarantee the interoperability between spatial information systems and, in this way, eliminate the obstacles that still exist.

One important aspect, which I would like to refer to, is that of funding. In this regard, I would like to stress that, according to the calculations of the European Commission itself, the application of this Directive will cost EUR 5 million per Member State, which represents 1% of the total spending on spatial information, while its application is expected to bring environmental benefits worth more than EUR 30 million per Member State, although it will perhaps be necessary for the directive to clearly establish the legibility conditions within the framework of the existing Community financial instruments for the costs of the planned actions.

Furthermore, I believe it is appropriate to base the Community infrastructure on the spatial information infrastructures established and managed by the Member States, in full application of the subsidiarity principle, but amongst those infrastructures, particularly when the Member States, such as mine, have several levels of public administration.

Finally, I would like to thank both the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the Council for their understanding, so that this proposal can provide for an analysis of soil erosion, since we must not forget the current significance of the progressive loss of soil throughout the European Union, and I would also like to express my concern about the specific role that the European Environment Agency should play in terms of creating the infrastructure necessary for the correct application of our objectives, since I still have some doubts in this field.

I would like to echo the congratulations expressed by this House, particularly to the rapporteur, and I believe that this mechanism that we are going to approve tomorrow will undoubtedly provide more clarity within the European Union's mechanisms.

 
  
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  Vittorio Prodi, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I, too, would like to thank Mrs Brepoels for the work she has carried out, which we carried out together. The Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe endorses the report, insofar as it represents a very significant coordination effort between the Member States.

The Council’s short-sighted attitude is regrettable, however, because, on the one hand, it has confined itself to environmental applications and, on the other hand, it has made little use of the Commission’s coordination capacities. The Commission can carry out a far more important role. Such a short-sighted attitude will require these topics to be re-examined in future, when it will be necessary precisely to make the document more general and to include possible areas for implementation – which will soon be extended by the availability of satellite systems, in particular GALILEO. These possible areas include, for instance, air, land and sea navigation assistance, support for land use and monitoring, which is yet to be taken to its logical conclusions, and the collection of statistical data with georeferenced points of reference, which could provide suggestions for further correlations.

In our legislative capacity, however, we must also consider the need to draw up fewer documents, of a more general nature. I hope, therefore, that we can return to this topic, precisely in order to make it an extremely important instrument, since we need it for much more than the environment.

 
  
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  Satu Hassi, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FI) Mr President, my many thanks go to the rapporteur, Mrs Brepoels, for her excellent levels of cooperation with the political groups. The Council of Ministers wanted to impose too many restrictions on the public’s access to information. We support the rapporteur in her conclusion that we did not agree to this and that, accordingly, the compromise at first reading was not reached.

It is reasonable to establish a database where existing environmental data can be made greater and more varied use of. The Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance would like to emphasise that our citizens must have the right freely to access information that is relevant to their lives and health on, for example, environmental pollution, even if many polluters of the environment, for example, would not like it. Moreover, even if it is important for many authorities to collect revenue for the information it produces when it is being used for commercial purposes, it is important that our citizens can freely access the information they need for the sake of their own lives and health without having to pay for it.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. Mr President, this directive should be named Expire rather than Inspire, considering the detrimental effect it will have on the Ordnance Survey mapping agency of Great Britain.

Ordnance Survey has been in existence for 215 years and has a long and distinguished record. Over the last 20 years or so, it has built itself up from a government-funded organisation into a successful commercial enterprise. Under its current arrangements, it has responsibility for its own finances and freedom to develop new customer-related initiatives. Inspire puts all that at risk and will undermine its successful commercial operation.

Why is this being done? Once more we see the dead hand of EU harmonisation and the EU’s need to control every aspect of its Member States’ lives. Also evident in this directive is the sinister presence of Galileo, the EU’s ‘big brother’ spy satellite, its eye in the sky. How much more effective that will be when the EU has control of national mapping services. According to the Commission’s own report, those involved in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, particularly the Commission itself, will be the main beneficiaries of this proposal. The British Government should have told the EU to get lost. However, we can always rely on its cowardice and craven surrender to the EU.

I would ask you to vote against this directive, but knowing your insatiable appetite for more and more legislation, I know I am wasting my breath. Perhaps the growing torrent of damaging legislation imposed on the United Kingdom might help to bring the British Government and its people to their senses and bring forward the day of Britain’s unconditional withdrawal from the European Union.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE-DE).(FI) Mr President, the success of the Community’s environmental policy depends very much on the availability of reliable scientific data and the trouble-free transmission of that data. The availability of spatial data is a necessary precondition for scientific evaluation conducted on the basis of environmental legislation.

The standardisation of spatial data collected from the Member States has still not made any great progress, as there are still serious barriers at Community level that are hampering the exploitation of the available information. We must therefore try to improve the way spatial data is used and accessed, to facilitate the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies. The purpose is to provide a knowledge base to take decisions on policies relating to the environment and in this way promote sustainable development. That is the goal.

The Community has various instruments at its disposal to help improve access to reliable data, in particular public sector data, in the first place, and later standardise it to make it comparable at Community level. One of them is the directive on public access to environmental information, for which I myself was rapporteur. The problems observed when it was being discussed should now be taken into careful consideration as we debate this proposal for a directive which would create a legal framework for the establishment of an infrastructure for spatial information in Europe.

One problem with both these directives is that it is feared that losses of income for certain data providers will result. I would therefore advise that we tread carefully right now, to avoid surprises. The most important objective is to reduce obstacles that hamper the shared use of data, particularly environmental data, among public authorities. The Community’s spatial data infrastructure will supplement the directives on the re-use of public sector information and public access to environmental information. I myself think it is very important that in establishing a spatial data infrastructure we should focus specifically on environmental policy, in which case there would be practical grounds for the centralisation of information.

 
  
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  Urszula Krupa (IND/DEM).   (PL) Mr President, the proposal for a directive on INSPIRE lays down rules for the establishment of a spatial information infrastructure for the purposes of implementing Community environmental policies in the Member States. Its primary focus is intended to be collections of spatial data and associated services, network technologies for sharing, access, use, coordination and monitoring mechanisms and procedures.

The principles and goals underlying these tasks, or in other words classification, standardisation and the establishment of an EU-wide database, would merit closer consideration if it were not for the fact that many European countries are currently experiencing political and economic problems as a result of rising unemployment and slow economic growth. There is a never-ending stream of proposals for new directives, even though it is the poorest among us who have to bear the brunt of their costs.

Annual investments of as much as EUR 5 million per Member State could be necessary to implement INSPIRE, and yet the database will not be fully functional for another 10 years. It is worth emphasising at this point that attempts to create an information infrastructure must not run counter to the social policies of the individual Member States.

The lofty goals proclaimed by the authors of the directive will be used as a pretext for the establishment of a database. Although such a database could well serve a variety of purposes, it could also be used as a political football, and this would pose a major risk. We therefore feel that this is not the most pressing of the many problems the EU needs to resolve. What is more, the directive requires further work and the incorporation of a great many safeguards.

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission. Mr President, first of all I would like to thank Mrs Salinas García for underlining the fact that the benefits of Inspire will by far outweigh the cost. Regarding Mrs Brepoels’ comments on intellectual property rights, I would like to stress that these are not significantly compromised by the proposed directive. In particular, it does not in any way affect the principle of co-existence or ownership of intellectual property rights.

Intellectual property rights held by public authorities must be exercised in a way that is compatible with the aim of Inspire, which is to ensure a maximum of data selling between public authorities, as well as public access to the data. Nevertheless, to answer some of Mr Batten’s concerns, the proposed directive explicitly allows public authorities to charge for data to be downloaded by the public.

Mr Seeber is right in his comments on comitology. This is indeed a technical directive and many of the detailed rules, for example on how to ensure interoperability between data systems, can only be decided at expert level.

I agree with Mrs Korhola. I would like to stress that the Inspire proposal builds on the access to information directive, incorporating the same type of restrictions on public access to information, and is fully complementary with the Aarhus Convention.

Generally, I am very pleased to say that I can accept a large majority of the amendments proposed, at least in principle. A few of the amendments aim to clarify the obligations on public authorities in relation to public access and data selling and to provide safeguards for data providers in relation to intellectual property rights.

Amendments 3 and 26 can be accepted in their entirety, while Amendments 28 and 29 can be accepted in principle. Most of the other amendments seek to provide technical clarification of the proposal. Some of these – Amendments 8 to 12 – are intended to make the structure of the text clearer and can also be accepted, although Amendment 9 introduces further small changes which can be only partly accepted.

Some amendments introduce other clarifications and can be accepted, while a number of others require some rewording or further clarification, so can only be accepted in principle.

There are just six amendments that we cannot accept. Amendments 2 and 7 seek to extend the scope of the directive to include data held by Community institutions and bodies. While we have no problem with this in substance, it would create substantial obligations on Community institutions and bodies and this cannot be done in the context of a directive.

Amendment 30 deletes a reference to measures taken to prevent distortion of competition and would make the text unclear.

Amendments 52, 53 and 54 give Member States more time to implement certain provisions of the directive. Delaying the implementation of key provisions will, however, also delay the benefits that will result from their implementation, an option which is not favoured by the Commission.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12 noon.

 
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