Open Data Directive: You gotta be kidding me!

By Chris Taggart, Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, OpenCorporates

Recently, the European Commission finally published the draft implementing act for the Open Data Directive. We looked at it, and looked at it again… and said: is that all there is?

To remind everyone, this was the directive that promised to make available as open data key high-value datasets, including “company and company ownership” data, and thus help tackle the corporate opacity that has been so damaging to society, competition and democracy. The implementing act’s job is to detail exactly what is meant by terms such as “company and company ownership data”. 

Not so difficult, you would have thought. It’s surely whatever is in official public registers, especially those relating directly to companies and company ownership (principally company registers and beneficial ownership registers). If it’s in there and public, then it should be included.

3 years on: No data, no progress

The directive was passed in July 2019, and yet, three years later, as we pointed out in our piece explaining the toxic real-world consequences of this delay, no additional company data has been published.

Not only that, nearly half the countries haven’t even passed the laws they were required to do to put the directive into force, a year after they were required to do so. 

And the European Commission has taken *two years* from the public consultation on the implementing act to actually publish a draft of the act. And this draft Act, which is pretty short, says, more or less: 

“You know those options on company data we consulted you on — the good one, and the crappy one — back in spring 2020, well, we decided to go with the crappy one, but y’know, make it even less effective by taking out key data, like who the directors are. 

In addition to this, we’re going to use a licence that’s going to complicate reuse for no benefit and the EU countries will be given two more years from when the implementing act comes into force before they have to do anything. All OK with that?”

The simple fact is that many of the EU member states don’t want you to have access to this data. For some, it’s a nice little earner, particularly where it’s been subcontracted to private or quasi private and opaque organisations. For example: Italy is estimated by the Commission’s own study to charge €60m. For others, the big business lobby and particularly of the large-scale family-owned organisations, don’t want it to be easy to see the scope of their power and influence. 

Upcoming consultation: Let’s fight back

The deadline for the consultation on the implementing act (that will maybe produce some small amount of data in a couple of years time) is on June 21, in 2 weeks time (see, they can move fast when they want to). 

OpenCorporates will be responding to it, as will many NGOs, because frustrating as it is, this is really important, as every new scandal caused by corporate opacity shows. 

We are confident that the European Commission and member states will eventually realise that they are on the wrong side of history – as they have with Russian oil and gas, and pandemic preparation – and that every major issue we face, from protecting democracy from kleptocracies and corruption, to the climate crisis, to dealing with financial crises requires this information to be truly open.

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