France has seen its share of revolutions, governments and leaders, from Gallic chieftains to Frankish kings, emperors to presidents, monarchy to people’s assembly, fascism to republic. Now, it looks like France will be the 64th country to join the historic Open Government Partnership that launched in September 2011.
— Romain Lacombe (@rlacombe) April 16, 2014
Last week, in the 55th item in a joint statement, French president François Hollande and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto the presidents of France and Mexico presidents announced that France would be joining the Open Government Partnership:
“Persuadés que la transparence, l’intégrité et la participation des citoyens aux décisions qui les concernent sont les piliers de la démocratie, le Mexique et la France ont décidé d’adhérer à l’Initiative pour un Gouvernement ouvert, dont le Mexique assumera la présidence en 2015 et sera siège du Sommet l’an prochain. Forts de leur expérience en matière d’ouverture et de partage des données publiques, la France et le Mexique entendent encourager pleinement cette initiative.»
Roughly translated to English, that is:
“Convinced that transparency, integrity and participation of citizens in decisions that concern them are the pillars of democracy, Mexico and France have decided to join the Open Government Partnership, of which Mexico assumes the presidency in 2015 and will be the seat of the Summit next year. With their experience of the opening of materials and sharing of public data, France and Mexico agree to fully encourage this initiative.”
Official adoption of gouvernment ouvert and open data by France would mean that “données publiques” (public data) and “données ouvert” (open data) will become part of the lingua franca of Francophone countries around the world. (Canada started that the ball rolling a few years ago.) Tranparence, collaboration and participation, the three pillars of open government proposed by the White House open government initiative five years ago, need far less in the way of translation, differing only in one letter.
Whether there is much of a discussion of how “libéralisme” — meaning economic liberalism and the market system — relates to données ouvert remains to be seen, particularly given that the Socialist party is currently in power in France. As the relationship between of open data and economic activity has become better established and the potential value of its release valued in the trillions of dollars (or euros), governments around the world have become interested in tapping their own national reserves.
One challenge for France, as it is everywhere the 21st century version of technology-driven open government is being embraced, will be to come to grips with the privacy rights of citizens, from surveillance to public data release, nor put critical infrastructure at risk through open data releases.
Another will be to pay equal or greater attention to the release of “données publiques” that is not only “ouvert” in the sense of format, license and reuse, but also in the sense of making the government more transparent and accountable to the citizens of the representative democratic republic, or to the oversight of their elected representatives, where public disclosures might affect national security, privacy or the trade secrets of companies under regulation.
The most uncomfortable challenge, however, may be reconciling this newfound, public commitment to more “openness” with closed or secret systems of government in France, from intelligence to criminal justice, just as it has true in other participating countries, from the United States to the Philippines.
If the Fifth French republic does carry through on this statement by submitting a letter of intent and subsequently joins the Open Government Partnership, the Hollande administration will be committing itself to creating a National Open Government Action Plan, following through on a public consultation and collaboration with civil society, and then to working towards milestones and goals in it.
Whether France makes meaningful commitments in its consultation, from publicizing it to giving citizens a real say in the future direction of the country, or follows through on them, will be, as is true everywhere, an open question.