His Coordinates

“Member States are obliged to implement INSPIRE”

Nov 2013 | No Comment

Alessandro Annoni

Head of the Digital Earth and Reference Data Unit, European Commission,
Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability in an interview with Coordinates

How is INSPIRE useful for Europe?

INSPIRE stands for Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe. It is a European framework legislation that aims to create a European Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) that is built on the top on National SDI developed and operated by the European Member States.

Through INSPIRE, we ensure the access to existing information in various Member States (MS). Through common rules and protocols and interoperable services (for discovery, view and download) we can access MS harmonised data at the European level. That means it would be possible to support cross border applications between two or more countries, by working with harmonised data set and interoperable services.

How much time did it take to implement this system, and has it been implemented fully and to your satisfaction?

The work for INSPIRE started in 2001, including an Impact Assessment in which we had to analyse the different options to create a European Spatial Data Infrastructure. Considering that there were different policies in place in the different Member States, the clear solution was that a European legislation was needed. For this reason in 2001 an INSPIRE expert group composed by representatives of the Member States and the European Commission jointly started the preparation of a proposal for the INSPIRE Directive (European legal framework). The INSPIRE Directive was adopted by the EU Council and Parliament in 2007. As any other European Directive the legislation has been transposed in all national legislations. This process took a couple of years.

INSPIRE is a framework legislation so all technical details are not necessarily described there. They are defined by additional legal acts called implementing rules. These implementing rules are additional legal acts that cover Metadata, Network Services, Data Sharing and Interoperability of Data and Services. The implementing rule on Network services in particular establishes common protocols for discovery, view and download data. The implementing rules have been developed across several years. The first one was developed in 2009 on Metadata and the last one was developed on data specifications on interoperability for Annex II and III data and was adopted on 21st October this year. Only one implementing rule is missing on Spatial Data Services and Invoke Services. This is expected to be adopted early next year. At that stage the INSPIRE legal framework will be complete.

INSPIRE implementation started at the time the directive was adopted in 2007, and progresses when additional implementing rules are adopted (for example the obligation to provide metadata is by 2010 following the adoption of the Metadata implementing rule). As far concern data interoperability (use of common data models), we should wait till 2015 for Annex I data, and then till 2020 for Annex II and III.

These dates are deadlines to be legally respected but some Member States could decide to anticipate the implementation. That is what is already happening in some Member States. The decision to anticipate implementation is related to various factors: i) need to anticipate modernisation of public services, ii) need to rationalise mandates of different Agencies, iii) new data collection campaign, iv) easy adaptation of existing data and services, .. Countries that are more advanced (e.g. data already standardised and archived in digital form) and organised as in UK, Germany, etc. will go faster. Vice versa other countries should start from a different lower level where we have to start (e.g. still need to digitise the information) so implementation could be slower. It is difficult to classify countries and we need to understand the different realities (cultural heritage and economic situation). However these countries will not necessarily be late despite a slower start.

We cannot propose a geographical distinction to explain the different speeds. In fact Poland and Hungary are well advanced whereas other East European countries are still organising themselves. It should be noted also that when a government changes, there may be an acceleration or delay on SDI implementation. The Croatia, as a new country that entered the European Union in June is now obliged to implement all European legislations. So they started very late (this year) but it seems that they are going very fast because they seem well organised.

The Member States have to report annually a number of indicators for monitoring the implementation and use of their infrastructures for spatial information. Their reports including i.a. information on the coordinating structures, on the use of the infrastructure for spatial information, on data-sharing agreements and on the costs and benefits of implementing the INSPIRE Directive, are prepared and submitted every three years, starting in 2010. This information about the state of the play of INSPIRE implementation in the various Member States is available on the INSPIRE website http://inspire.jrc. ec.europa.eu/index.cfm/pageid/182

What is likely to take place if a member state does not want to join or wants to get out of it? Can it?

INSPIRE is a legislation, so the Member States are obliged to implement it. Like any other legislation not implementing its provisions will result in having to pay serious penalties.

For the time being implementation is more or less in line, with acceptable minimum delays. So there are no penalties proposed. If in future, some member states will not respect deadlines the European Commission will start the procedure of infringement and Member States will be asked to pay penalties.

How long have you been associated with this project?

Since the beginning of INSPIRE but already doing anticipatory work in 1997. In fact my organisation (JRC) in 1997 launched the project “GI harmonisation and GIS interoperability” aiming to explore the possibility to create a European SDI. In 2001, we met with colleagues of the Directorate General of Environment and they recognised the importance of our work to ensure better harmonised information for environmental policy making. It was so decided to launch the INSPIRE initiative and to involve Member States since the beginning through the INSPIRE Expert Group composed by MS representatives.

What were the challenges, since it is not easy to get all the 28 member states on to the same board.

INSPIRE is unique, and this is why it is internationally recognised as a good model to develop a Regional SDI. In fact INSPIRE respects the freedom of each Member States to develop its own national infrastructure (including adoption of national standards) and focusses on common protocols to make the various NSDI interoperable at European level.

For developing the technical specifications we used drafting teams composed by representatives of the Member States. In this way we collected all the reference material allowing us to re-use and take into consideration everything that already exists.

By defining a minimum common denominator we can minimise the cost for adaption of National systems to INSPIRE. INSPIRE has been a real collective effort (open and transparent) to develop a legislation and the related technical guidelines. We had also several publication consultations. At the end, the Member States endorsed a legislation that was drafted by them. This approach took a lot more time to develop the specifications than the normal approach of asking few experts to develop them. But the advantage is that we built the consensus during the drafting and so it there is no surprise, because at the end, it is the member states who have decided what they want and can do.

Do you have any advice to countries who are struggling to set up their own spatial data infrastructure?

From the experience that we have made INSPIRE, we know what should be avoided. It could be a mistake to ask only to data providers how to build the infrastructure. The infrastructure should be designed together by people responsible for data provision together with those responsible for their use (including citizens, decision makers and application providers). By only listening to the voice of data providers, we probably develop an infrastructure that is not fitting the purpose for the use and nobody will understand why money is invested in something that nobody will use. So it is important and this is what we tried in INSPIRE, to have every decision clearly justified by user demands. The INSPIRE infrastructure is not dealing with only cartographic and geodetic. Our users are environmental users who will use the topographic data together with environmental data (forests, soils, geology, etc.) to address specific questions. My recommendation for the India NSDI is to do something that users wants, and meanwhile something that is feasible at reasonable cost. The project team responsible for the design of the NSDI should be composed of all stakeholders, and not be restricted only data provider or academic people.

What were the stumbling blocks you came across these 12 years?

One clear problem that we faced and was not foreseen was the unforeseen problem of the financial crisis. The financial situation in Europe is particularly severe, and implies cuts in the public administration resources. Resources dedicated to geographic information could be cut easier than resources dedicated to Health. So the organisation responsible for the implementation could be in difficulty because it would have fewer budget compared to past years. Anyhow INSPIRE is saving resources by avoiding duplication and is helping in making economy. So it can be seen as an opportunity to deal with financial restrictions.

A second problem that complicated our life is the quality of geographic information standards that are really not ready for use. In INSPIRE framework, we are still facing the immaturity of existing standards that are not appropriate for an operational infrastructure (there is also an increasing competition between GI standards and the main ICT standards).Additionally these standards were designed mainly by the National Mapping Agencies and their application to the environmental sector (environmental spatial data) not necessarily fit from a data provider point of view.

The third problem is the rapid evolution of ICT technology. When you have a legal frame imposing technical rules, it is difficult to dynamically adapt to technological changes. We cannot change it every time a new technology becomes available because in that case you will get the member states in trouble. If you keep changing every year, you will never have anything implemented. So we have to agree to decide on a certain point about one technology you want to impose and stay on that technology until the infrastructure is implemented. Then in the future we can evolve and adapt.

Have the benefits of INSPIRE already started? Give examples of INSPIRE as a system being used by the member states, and being beneficial.

INSPIRE as a whole system is not yet usable because as mentioned before implementing rules on data interoperability has only been adopted this year. And as well the obligation to provide the data would be in 2015. So for the time being, you don’t have access to harmonise the data only to Metadata. What you have today is just the possibility to search the data and download the data under the INSPIRE scope but according to existing national data models. The benefit for national citizens is quite obvious. Information which was not accessible before, is now accessible, and in some cases is now free of charge. If you look at UK, France, they have a very restricted policy before whereas now they have decided to adopt a more open data policy. Information is now documented and people can start to use. As a consequence the number of users increases (at country level). Viceversa expected benefits for accessing cross border harmonised information will be from 2015 onwards.

A second main benefit is that INSPIRE is helping in coordinating across Public Authorities. In one country’s 100-200 national public authorities could be affected by INSPIRE and are forced to collaborate and to agree on common procedures, to clarify individual roles and mandates and collate information collected by each of them and maybe put money together to buy new data. So it is a kind of an economy and also harmonisation of practices between different organisations.

A third benefit is about raising awareness. Citizens using INSPIRE services can identify inefficiencies in public administration (asking to for data that are not made accessible). Citizen will also become more concerned about the advantage of a spatial data infrastructure.

What are the steps you are taking to educate the citizens?

This is a tricky point. Education to the citizens could not be done directly by the European Commission whereas indirect actions are foreseen. Education remains a main responsibility of each Member State. What we are trying to do is to identify INSPIRE evangelists in each country. We put together representatives of different countries and we try to do some capacity building with them in order that they can then do the same in their own country training people in their own language. So we concentrate on preparing training material, organising the annual INSPIRE conference (attended by one thousand of participants) and participate to National events organised by the member states. Special attention is given to preaccession and neighbourhood countries.

Is Galileo as an organisation or a system part of INSPIRE?

Galileo is mentioned in the INSPIRE Directive. The establishment of INSPIRE will represent significant added value for — and will also benefit from — other Community initiatives such as Galileo. Member States should consider using the data and services resulting from Galileo as they become available, in particular those related to the time and space references from Galileo.

When INSPIRE was adopted in 2007, Galileo’s services were not yet operational.

With Galileo now becoming operational, an European GNSS Agency (GSA) agency has been established last year in Prague. The Agency’s strategic objectives include the achievement of a fully operational GALILEO system. Moreover, the Agency’s key stated objective is to make GALILEO not just a functioning system but also the world’s leading satellite navigation system for civilian applications.

For the three-dimensional and twodimensional coordinate reference systems and the horizontal component of compound coordinate reference systems used for making spatial data sets available, INSPIRE adopts the datum of the European Terrestrial Reference System 1989 (ETRS89) in areas within its geographical scope, or the datum of the International Terrestrial Reference System (ITRS) or other geodetic coordinate reference systems compliant with ITRS in areas that are outside the geographical scope of ETRS89.

No impact is foreseen on INSPIRE specification adopted since information provided by Galileo is fully compatible.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (18 votes, average: 1.17 out of 5)

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.