Open letter to the Spanish EU Presidency

Spanish flag fluttering in the wind

Dear Prime Minister Sanchez,

We are looking forward to the Spanish Presidency of the EU. With its strong emphasis on open science and library networks at home, Spain has a great opportunity to contribute to realising Europe’s potential through advancing towards 21st century access to research, education and culture.

As the last full presidency before the European Parliament elections in June 2024, we have high hopes that Spain will not only focus on completing work on key Regulations and Directives, but will also take stock, look to the future, and start to identify the themes that will shape upcoming work programmes and manifestoes ahead of the 2024-29 mandate.

Based on the priorities defined by the Presidency itself, we therefore believe that there are opportunities in the following areas.

Reindustrialising Europe and ensuring Open Strategic Autonomy

The Presidency has a welcome focus on looking to reassert the place of Europe in the world by promoting home-grown ideas, innovations, and business.

While much attention will be on sector-specific initiatives, such as those around data and chips, the Presidency would do well to ensure that there is also a strong focus upstream, on the basic research taking place in universities and other centres of research, that will later generate new business and innovation.

The interests and needs of researchers have all too often been neglected by recent EU legislation, indicating a fundamental problem in the impact assessment process.

To correct this, the Presidency could usefully push for updates to the EU’s Better Regulation Toolbox to ensure a strong focus on the future, as well as acting to revise provisions in ongoing legislative proposals which fall short. It should also start to look at other jurisdictions, including those of Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea to see how flexibilities in intellectual property frameworks can support science and new innovation.

A particular priority should be to resist the inclusion of the most recent European Parliamentary proposal around the AI Act to oblige the listing of sources consulted to train algorithms. While there are legitimate issues around transparency, this is too late in the process and should be recognised for the premature and ill-thought-through amendment that it is – a stakeholder dialogue on the topic would be a very useful next step.

Ecological transition and environmental adaptation

It is welcome that the Presidency highlights the need to invest political capital in advancing environmental priorities. Success here will, however, require a comprehensive approach.

The Presidency has an opportunity to pursue this goal by ensuring that the draft Directive on common rules for the repair of goods (Right to Repair Directive), recently published by the Commission, is not only advanced, but that it clearly addresses barriers to accessing and working with software code and wider repair information.

With action around electronic waste a clear priority as part of wider efforts to build a circular economy, it is vital that software-enabled products do not need to be thrown away just because it is difficult or impossible to get the relevant permissions. Our response to the Right to Repair Directive proposal offers more detail.

Promote social justice

The focus on equity in the proposed priorities is also very positive, looking to rebalance relations and favour fairer access to opportunities and resources. In this context, the case of workers in the knowledge economy – and in particular researchers – should not be neglected.

The Council Conclusions of 23 May under the Swedish Presidency propose a number of measures that would benefit young researchers in particular, who are often not well placed to ensure maximum access to their work in negotiations with publishers.

Furthermore, the Conclusions underline the priority afforded to immediate open access to publicly funded research, a move that will benefit, in particular, institutions that are smaller or based in countries with fewer available resources as well as independent researchers.

The Spanish Presidency has an opportunity, here, to ensure that the roadmap set out in these Conclusions gets underway and even starts to deliver. Spain’s own provisions around immediate access to publicly funded research (sometimes called secondary publishing rights) provides a useful starting point, while work to build awareness among authors of the impacts of giving away intellectual property rights to publishers cannot come too soon. See our response to the Conclusions for more.

Strengthen Europe’s Unity

The Presidency is right to underline that strengthening exchanges across borders within Europe – and with its neighbours – is essential for the future strength of the bloc.

One aspect of the single market that receives far too little attention is the free movement of knowledge established in Article 179 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Inconsistency in the rules around the creation, sharing and use of knowledge prevent this from becoming a reality, as do outdated laws and practices that, for example, oblige people to travel in order to access books or other documents.

Clearly, time is limited, but the Presidency could already help lay the groundwork for the next mandate of the Commission and Parliament by supporting discussion around what needs to change.

The time is now: this is a significant moment to advance key legislative dossiers, maintain the momentum built up over the last six months, and ensure further progress towards a comprehensive approach to ensuring fulfilment of the rights to research, education and culture in a digital age.

Yours sincerely,

4 July 2023