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.


Formulating implementing rules

Drafting teams have been set up by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) to prepare implementing rules for the five main elements of INSPIRE: that were defined in the Directive: ie. metadata, spatial data specification, network services and interoperability,data and

Table 3 Data sets listed in Annex III of the INSPIRE Direc
Annex III
  Statistical units   Buildings
  Soil   Land use
  Human health and safety   Utility and governmental
  Environmental monitoring facilities   Production and industrial facilities
  Agriculture and aquaculture
  Population distribution   –demography
  Area management/ restriction/   regulation zones   Natural risk zones
  Atmospheric conditions   Meteorological geographical   features
  Oceanographic geographical   features   Sea regions
  Bio-geographical regions   Habitats and biotopes
  Species distribution   Energy resources
  Mineral resources  

service sharing, and monitoring and reporting. The Commission recognises that the development of implementing rules to guide subsequent work in the member states will require the participation of a large number of stakeholders from different sectors of the GI community. To assist in the work of the drafting teams and to make the process as inclusive as possible the JRC is building up a network of Spatial Data Interest Communities (SDICs) throughout Europe. These SDICs are seen as bringing together ‘the human expertise of users, producers and transformers of spatial information, technical competence, financial resources and policies, with an interest to better use these resources for spatial data management and the development and operation of spatial information services’ (Annoni and Craglia 2005, 8). It is envisaged that these SDICs will work alongside the Legally Mandated Organisations (LMOs) who are formally involved with respect to one or more elements of INSPIRE implementation.

The reasoning behind the creation of these procedures is quite simple. The key to the successful implementation of INSPIRE, and SDIs in general, is networking. Because of the number of agencies involved in the case of INSPIRE proactive networking on an unprecedented scale is needed to make it possible for as many as possible of those who will be implementing INSPIRE to participate in the formulation of implementing rules. In this way the critical mass of committed users from all sectors of the GI community that is essential for its effective implementation will be created. However, it must be recognised that although the numbers of Spatial Data Interest Communities and Legally Mandated Organisations that are currently participating in INSPIRE are impressive, there may be still a long way to go before the interests of the majority of stakeholders are adequately represented. This will depend to a large extent on the efforts that are made by the national member states to ensure the active involvement of national and sub national bodies in the implementation of INSPIRE.

Some lessons

It must be borne in mind that the adoption of the INSPIRE Directive marks the beginning not the end of SDI implementation in Europe. INSPIRE is primarily an environmental initiative and work in other key fields such as transport, spatial planning and agriculture is still at the early stages of development. Nevertheless, INSPIRE can be used as a model for multi national SDI development for others to follow not only in Europe but elsewhere in the world.

The INSPIRE initiative highlights the importance of developing an overall legal framework for a supranational SDI that ensures the commitment of the national member states to the project. The same approach could be useful in large federal sates such as India where the number of stakeholders whose commitment is needed for the effective implementation of the national SDI is considerable. It also demonstrates the need for networking on a very substantial scale to mobilise the expertise that already exists in the national member states to develop implementing rules that are acceptable to the participants. As always, the devil is in the detail, but the prior commitment of the national member states to the principle should make the task of building a consensus more manageable.


* Annoni, A. and M. Craglia, 2005. Towards a Directive establishing an infrastructure for spatial information in Europe (INSPIRE), Proc GSDI 8, Cairo, Egypt.
* Commission of the European Communities, (CEC), 2007. An infrastructure for spatial information in the European Community (INSPIRE), Directive 2007/2/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Official Journal of the European Union, L108, 1-14.
* Masser, I., 2007, Building European spatial data infrastructures, Redlands: ESRI Press.


Ian Masser

Ian retired from the position of Professor of Urban
Planning at the International Institute for
Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) in
September 2002 after four and a half years service.He was
also President of the GSDI Association from September
2002 to February 2004. He was also President of the GSDI
Association from September 2002 to February 2004.
My coordinates
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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