2.2.1. Legislative Context
With the entry into force in May 2007 of the INSPIRE Directive [1
], the EU embarked on an ambitious initiative for enabling access and reuse of geospatial data and information across all levels of government and borders. INSPIRE quickly proved itself to be a de facto
pioneer and innovator of a European Interoperability Framework [4
] and the Digital Single Market priority initiative for building a European data economy benefiting the overall economy and society [9
]. At the EU level the geospatial dimension, which is relevant to INSPIRE, is very important for the provision of multiple public services. This is reflected in the strong political commitment expressed in the 2017 Tallinn Ministerial declaration on eGovernment [11
] where EU Member States and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries pledged to adhere to the vision outlined in the European eGovernment Action Plan 2016?2020 [12
]. Furthermore, the newly released European Data Strategy [3
] establishes an ambitious agenda that aims to leverage on the favourable technological and political context and empowers EU citizens, businesses and the public authorities through a data-agile approach which is (i) in line with European values, and (ii) reflects the needs of a multitude of actors.
Looking beyond the environmental domain, digital spatial data is an important resource for economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, job creation and societal progress (see e.g., [13
]). The re-use of Public Sector Information (PSI) data can contribute to the growth of the European economy, the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and can play an important role in addressing a multitude of societal challenges. The Open Data Directive [16
], which revises the PSI Directive [17
], entered into force in July 2019. The new Directive aims to address the issues, that were detected during the evaluation in 2018, affecting the full exploitation of the potential of public sector information for the European economy and society. It also encourages the access to and re-use of public and publicly funded data and recognises INSPIRE as a good practice. In addition, the European Commission has also defined a series of key principles to be considered so as to make data sharing a success for all parties involved, in Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Government (B2G) situations [18
The Open Data Directive makes also explicit mention to the increasingly huge amount of digital data (including not only ’data’ in the conventional sense but also the associated algorithms, tools and workflows) produced in research and having a high potential for re-use for societal benefit. In line with the good data management practices translated by the FAIR (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, Reusability) guiding principles [19
], in 2016 the European Commission setup an Expert Group to investigate how the FAIR paradigm can be turned into reality [20
]. The Group mandate has recently ended with the release of a dedicated Report and Action Plan focused on the actions needed in terms of research culture and technological infrastructure to ensure that all digital outputs of research are made FAIR [21
]. Achieving FAIR research data at the EU level would be a necessary condition to establish the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), a trusted environment for sharing and analysing data from all publicly funded research that should become operational within the next few years [22
In addition, the Open Data Directive introduces the concept of ‘high-value datasets’. These are datasets holding the potential to (i) generate significant socio-economic or environmental benefits and innovative services, (ii) benefit a high number of users, in particular SMEs, (iii) assist in generating revenues, and (iv) be combined with other datasets. Given this, the Directive requires that such datasets are available free of charge, are provided via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and as a bulk download where relevant, and are machine-readable [16
]. The Directive does not include the specific list of high-value datasets—which is expected in the future—but only their thematic categories, one of which is ’Geospatial’.
As outlined, the benefits of implementing the INSPIRE Directive are not limited to environmental policies, yet this initial goal of the Directive is central to the EU political agenda—see, for example, the 2015 Paris Agreement [23
] and the political priorities of the new European Commission 2019?2024 [24
]. To fully reap the economic, environmental and societal benefits of EU’s environmental policies, it is necessary to integrate INSPIRE in the broader context of EU initiatives such as those of the Digital Single Market (Digital Europe Programme [25
] and European Cloud Initiative [26
]), Future of the Common Agricultural Policy [27
] in particular related to data sharing, and the EU space programmes Copernicus [28
], Galileo [29
] and EGNOS [30
] in accordance with the proposed new regulation for space program.
Finally, the amounts of available geospatial data are increasing on a daily basis thanks to the implementation of the legal instruments described above, not to mention the data generated by crowdsourced initiatives and technological drivers such as the Internet of Things (IoT). Clearly the main impact on data reuse is given by the specific policies applied to each data source. INSPIRE supports open government principles and open data initiatives but it does not specify a common data policy [1
], which results into datasets published by EU Member States being available under a heterogeneous set of licenses (see Section 2.2.2
). The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, [31
]), which entered into force in May 2018, is also impacting the European geospatial data landscape. Thus, it is not difficult to envisage cases where the combination of different geospatial datasets exposes the location of individuals, that is, those are to be considered as personal information. In addition, while the GDPR is conceptualised and put in place for good reasons, there might be cases where it is used as an ’excuse’
for public sector authorities to not share their data.
2.2.2. Availability of INSPIRE Data
All the resources (datasets and corresponding metadata) shared by Member States and EFTA countries which fall under the scope of INSPIRE can be accessed through the INSPIRE Geoportal [32
]. This represents the entry point to the whole INSPIRE infrastructure and allows to search and discover datasets based on their metadata and then visualise or download them [33
]. Datasets can be accessed using two different viewers—the first focused on so-called priority datasets (i.e., specific datasets used for environmental reporting [34
]), the second focused on datasets belonging to each of the INSPIRE’s 34 cross-sectoral categories, named data themes [35
]. An overview of the total number of datasets published by each EU Member State or EFTA country is also offered (see Figure 1
). The three numbers associated to each country indicate, respectively: the number of datasets for which a metadata record exists, the number of datasets for which an INSPIRE View Service exists, and the number of datasets for which an INSPIRE Download Service exists. According to a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach based on the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards for geospatial interoperability, metadata are published using INSPIRE Discovery Services through the Catalog Service for the Web (CSW) standard; INSPIRE View Services are based on the Web Map Service (WMS) and Web Map Tile Service (WMTS) standards; and INSPIRE Download Services are based on Atom feeds, Web Feature Service (WFS), Web Coverage Service (WCS) and Sensor Observation Service (SOS) standards. Figure 1
, depicting the situation as of October 2019, shows that about 150k datasets are available with metadata, of which about 24k are also viewable and about 13k downloadable. These figures are highly dynamic and - depending on each country - typically change on a weekly or monthly basis as soon as new metadata or services are added to the infrastructure.