French MPs adopt a government amendment which denies priority to free software in the future public service for digital education

Paris, 4 June 2013. Press release.

During the second reading of a draft law dealing with the reorganisation of state schools, French MPs voted in favor of a governmental amendment which denies priority to free software in the future public service for digital education. April denounces a political manoeuver which serves private interests at the cost of public interest.

The French Senate at its first reading, and the National Assembly's Cultural Affairs and Education Commission at its second reading, both voted a provision that gave priority to free software and open document formats in the future public service for digital education (Section 10, paragraph 7). Unfortunately, yielding to the pressure of Afdel, Syntec Numérique and Afinef, the government tabled an amendment (number 359) which took the wind out of the provision's sails.

During the public session this Tuesday, 4 June, around midnight, amendment 359 was discussed and put to the vote. Despite having accepted the original text within the Cultural Affairs and Education Commission, the rapporteur on the bill Yves Durand gave a favorable opinion on the governement's amendment, citing legal issues with the original text of Section 10, paragraph 7, rather than political ones. He explained that, according to Vincent Peillon's arguments, enshrining free software priority in the law would be contradictory to European competition laws. We would be more than happy to read a detailed legal analysis of this claim. For the time being, the government's statements are unsupported.

“The priority given to free software, as introduced by the Senate, is perfectly legal and was validated by the Conseil d'État (French administrative supreme court) in its decision of 30 September 2011. We urge the French government to publish a detailed legal analysis in support of its claims,” said Jeanne Tadeusz, public affairs officer at April.

MPs Barbara Pompili (Green Party), Laurent Grandguillaume (Socialist Party) and Thierry Braillard (Radical Party of the Left) intervened against the governement's amendment. They requested maintaining the original text which gave priority to free software in the future public service for digital education.

Barbara Pompili notably explained that, given the economic power of proprietary software, letting things run their own course was not enough. In the view of the uneven forces at hand, policies have to be much more supportive of free software. The text of Section 10, paragraph 7, was a small progress. Barbara Pompili continued by explaining that widthdrawing the priority of Free Software would be seen by many as a form of surrendering that would be very difficult to justify. She finally recalled that only Free Software and Open Formats could ensure equal and sustainable access to digital resources for everyone, and that promoting Free Software was the very essence of the Republican spirit of solidarity and equality.

“We fully agree with what MP Barbara Pompili said. The reference made by Minister Vincent Peillon to Prime Minister Ayrault's instruction on free software was just a flimsy way to to hide the governement's refusal to implement a public policy giving priority to free software,” said Frédéric Couchet, executive director of April.

A video of debates is available (starting at 7:20)

However, the government's amendment was voted and adopted by MPs.

Prior to this vote, paragraph 7 of Section 10 about the future public service for digital education was worded as follows:

"This public service prioritizes the use of free software and open document formats."

After adoption of the governmental amendement, paragraph 7 becomes:

"In the context of this public service, determining the choice of resources used takes into consideration free software and open document formats on offer, if there are any."

Nevertheless, the saga continues and the campaign must go on. The draft education law is still in discussion at the National Assembly and will be sent to the Senate for the second reading afterwards.