|Author (Person)||Coss, Simon|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.8, No.31, 5.9.02, p13|
THE EU's statistical office is 'ripping off' ordinary Europeans who want to find out more about the Union by making them pay to download much of the data on its website, says one of the EU's leading citizens' rights campaigners.
Tony Venables, who heads the Brussels-based European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), argues that Eurostat's policy of charging the same amount for downloads statistics as it does to send data by post on either CD-Rom or paper just doesn't make sense.
'Where a public administration can show there are particular costs involved in providing a service - like printing or postage - then there might be an argument for making a charge,' he said.
'But when it comes to downloading data this patently isn't the case. The current policy is a straight rip-off.'
The European Commission, which has ultimate responsibility for Eurostat, defended itself against Venables' allegations by arguing that citizens do not have to pay to download all of the data the statistical office produces.
'The basic information is available for free. It is only the more detailed stuff that you have to pay for because these sort of figures have a commercial value,' said Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd.
'And in any case the charges are linked to the costs of producing the data. They certainly don't represent a useful source of income for the Commission,' he added.
Todd also pointed out that most of Eurostat's data comes from the EU's national statistical offices, many of which charge for their services. 'It would be unfair of us to circumvent these partner organisations by providing free-of-charge information they make people pay for,' he said.
But Venables refuted all of Todd's arguments.
Eurostat is a public service funded by taxpayers, and he believes it has no business charging people to download any data.
'ECAS has proposed that any future EU constitution should include a clear reference to citizens' right of information. If that were the case, this sort of practice would quite simply be illegal,' he said.
Other critics say the criteria Eurostat uses to decide what 'basic' data it will make available free are somewhat arbitrary.
For example, the Eurostat Yearbook - the Union's statistical bible - costs €40 to download or buy as a CD-ROM or book, while the new Statistical Yearbook on the candidate countries costs €30.
Extracts from the two publications are available free online, but users must pay for complete versions.
The row over Eurostat's pricing policy comes at a time when the Commission is making much of its efforts to get closer to EU citizens and provide more information about how the Union works.
In his introduction to the Eurostat website, the service's Director-General, Yves Franchet, describes statistics as 'the bedrock of democratic market societies'.
Enterprise Commissioner Erkii Liikanen also stressed the importance of online public services like Eurostat when he launched the latest phase of the much-vaunted eEurope initiative earlier this year.
He said one of the main aims of eEurope 2005 would be to promote 'better, more accessible services for all European citizens' and encourage 'e-inclusion'.
But, say the critics, while one of the Commission's own departments continues to hand out information in return for money, some Europeans will always be better informed than others.
The EU's statistical office is 'ripping off' ordinary Europeans who want to find out more about the European Union by making them pay to download much of the data on its website, says one of the EU's leading citizens' rights campaigners.
|Subject Categories||Culture, Education and Research|