Inspiring’ INSPIRE

Feb 2008 | Comments Off on Inspiring’ INSPIRE

Ian Masser

The INSPIRE directive marks the beginning, not the end of SDI implementation in Europe

The European Union’s INfrastructure for Spatial InfoRmation in Europe (INSPIRE) initiative is ‘inspiring’ for two important reasons. First, because Directive 2007/2/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council entitled ‘An infrastructure for spatial information in the European Community (INSPIRE)’ (CEC2007) breaks new ground by establishing the legal framework for the creation of a European level spatial data infrastructure and, as a result, the governments of all 27 European Union national member states must modify existing legislation or introduce new legislation to implement its provisions by May 2009. Second, because of the procedures that have been devised for the creation of implementing rules that are generally acceptable to the European stakeholder community who will have to implement them in practice. With these considerations in mind this paper considers the contents of the INSPIRE Directive and discusses the principles underlying the procedures for the formulation of implementing rules.


The INSPIRE initiative was launched by the European Commission in 2001 with the objective of making available relevant and harmonized geographic information to support the formulation and implementation of European Community policies with a territorial dimension. INSPIRE deals with the spatial information that is required for environmental policies but can also be seen as the first step toward a broad multi sectoral initiative at the European level. It is a legal initiative that addresses matters such as technical standards and protocols, organisational and coordination issues, data policy issues including data access and the creation and maintenance of spatial information (Masser 2007, chapter 4). The five key principles underlying the initiative are set out in table 1.

Table 1 Key principles underlying INSIRE
  Data should be collected once and maintained at the level where this   can be done most effectively
  It should be possible to combine seamlessly spatial data from   different sources and share it between many users and applications
  Spatial data should be collected at one level of government and   shared between all levels
  Spatial data needed for good governance should be available on   conditions that are not restricting its extensive use
  It should be easy to discover which spatial data is available, to   evaluate its fitness for purpose and to know which conditions apply for   its use

The INSPIRE Directive

The first sections of the Directive outlines the problems that face those involved in implementing the Community’s Environmental Action Programme: ‘ a number of problems exist regarding the availability, quality, organisation, accessibility and sharing of spatial information needed in order to achieve the objectives set out in that programme.’ To deal with these problems measures are required ‘that address exchange, sharing, access and use of interoperable spatial data and spatial data services across the various levels of public authority and across different sectors.’ In other words ‘an infrastructure for spatial information should therefore be established.’

The Directive makes it clear that ‘INSPIRE should be based on the infrastructures for spatial information that are created by the member states’ provided that these conform to implementing rules which ensure that their spatial information is compatible and usable in a trans boundary context. It is also emphasised that the primary objective is to facilitate spatial data harmonisation. Consequently it is stated explicitly that the Directive ‘does not require collection of new spatial data.’ (Article 4.4)

The Directive recognises that its implementation must be phased and that the spatial data themes ‘should be accorded different levels of priority.’ Table 2 lists the data sets that are listed in Annexes I and II of the Directive as priority areas while table 3 lists those included in Annex III as lower priority. The deadline for adoption of the implementing rules for Annex I data sets is set at the 15 May 2009 and the 15May 2012 for Annex II and III data (article 9). From these

Table 2 data sets listed in Annex I and II of the INSPIRE Directive
Annex I Annex II
  Coordinate reference systems   Elevation
  Geographical grid systems   Land cover
  Geographical names   Orthoimagery
  Administrative units   Geology
  Cadastral parcels  
  Transport networks  
  Protected sites  

annexes it can seen that the list of data that is required is a formidable one. While many of the data sets listed in Annex I and II feature prominently in most SDI core or framework data sets, the thematic data requirements listed in Annex III are very diverse and will involve the cooperation of many different data producers.


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