The European Parliament and Council reached agreement last night on the contents of the proposed INSPIRE Directive, which aims to harmonise spatial information across Europe.Key points resolved during the final stages of the discussions between the institutions included the principles according to which citizens should be allowed to examine the official maps and other spatial data covered by the directive, and rules for granting authorities access to data held by other authorities. Copyright issues were also dicussed in detail.The directive will oblige EU member states to improve the administration of their map services and other spatial data services according to common principles. This will give Europe's citizens better opportunities to find useful information about the environment and other issues from the internet. It will also enable the authorities to benefit more from information compiled by other official organisations.
Data search services designed for the public will generally be free of charge, although the directive allows fees to be charged for access to data that has to be updated frequently, such as weather reports. "I'm very satisfied that a solution has now been found," said Finnish Environment Minister Jan-Erik Enestam. "I believe that the new directive will create a solid basis for the future development of spatial data infrastructures at national and European level, and also enable high quality data bases and information services to be run in the member states." 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:1. the creation of metadata, 2. technical developments promoting interoperability, 3. the use of data services, 4. principles on access to data and the related charges, and 5. national co-ordination. The implementation of the directive will be a considerable challenge for the authorities who maintain electronic maps and spatial data bases 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. Background to the INSPIRE DirectiveIn July 2004 the European Commission submitted a proposal for an INSPIRE Directive, after three years of preparatory work. The name "INSPIRE" is an abbreviation for 'Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community'.The directive aims to improve the usability of the spatial data compiled by the member states' authorities. A key objective of the directive is to establish an effective basis for a Europe-wide network of spatial information services, which could help to replace other processes such as the national reporting currently required for the EU environmental administration.The Environment Council reached political agreement on the new directive in June 2005 during Luxemburg's EU Presidency, and a common position was officially approved on 23.1.2006. During a second reading of the proposed directive on 13th June 2006 the European Parliament adopted 36 amendments to the common position. The Council was not able to approve all of these amendments, so the conciliation process was continued through informal discussions held during Finland's EU Presidency, culminating in the establishment of a conciliation committee made up of representatives of the European Parliament and Council, who have now reached agreement on the draft directive.
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