French Law on Education: Response from Vincent Peillon to our letter about the prioritisation of Free Software

On July 25th, 2013, the French Minister of National Education, Vincent Peillon, responded to our letter that demanded clarifications about the alleged illegality of a Free Software preference provision.

Indeed, a legislative provision for providing priority to Free Software was introduced by the French Senate at the end of May as part of the Bill for the "Re-organisation of Public Schools," and was further amended in June by the Government. At that point the Minister had argued that it was impossible to implement such a measure within the framework of European legislation.

In early June, April had written to the Minister to request specific clarifications, as such an illegality appeared dubious to us, especially as it relates to numerous other European countries that have already put in place prioritisations for Free Software and/or open formats in their legislation.

Although the law was already adopted on June 25, 2013, the late response from the Minister provides clarifications:

In some calls for tender, giving preference to Free Software could lead to law suits claiming lack of free market competition. This would possibly result in stricter procedures constraints for the Public Service for Digital Education administration.

Finally, the prioritisation of Free Software would result in a de facto elimination of the hardware that requires proprietary software, of a portion of the digital environments chosen by the local governments, and of industry solutions such as email systems, databases, and various digital educational resources such as textbooks, encyclopedias, etc.

Indeed, as you know, several criteria are generally taken into consideration when evaluating comprehensive offers for use or purchase of digital solutions. The type of license (proprietary vs. free) can not in and by itself be the only criterion for making the final decision.

The reply thus indicates that the Ministry wants Free Software only when it does not interfere with existing proprietary software. This political choice is all the more clear because, in the letter, the Government's amendment —which states that “The decision-making authorities are required to evaluate all the existing offers, including the free solutions”— is presented as a step forward. Therefore, April regrets that the Ministry is not willing to set forth any other policy in favour of Free Software as part of the legislation on school reorganisation, other than merely taking into account its existence. Nevertheless, April hopes that this will not impede efforts for putting in place internal policies in support of Free Software in everyday life.

And finally, let us remember that, fortunately, this view is not entirely typical of the current public policy on this subject. When the legislation on Higher Education and Research was passed, on July 9, 2013, prioritisation of Free Software in the Public Service for Higher Education was enshrined into law.

Many thanks to Mokor, Therese and the April translation team for the translation.