OW2: ‘The European Union Must Keep Funding Free Software’

OW2, the non-profit international consortium dedicated to developing open-source middleware, published an open letter to the European Commission today. They’re urging the European Union to continue funding free software after noticing that the Next Generation Internet (NGI) programs were no longer mentioned in Cluster 4 of the 2025 Horizon Europe funding plans.

OW2 argues that discontinuing NGI funding would weaken Europe’s technological ecosystem, leaving many projects under-resourced and jeopardizing Europe’s position in the global digital landscape. The letter reads, in part: NGI programs have shown their strength and importance to support the European software infrastructure, as a generic funding instrument to fund digital commons and ensure their long-term sustainability. We find this transformation incomprehensible, moreover when NGI has proven efficient and economical to support free software as a whole, from the smallest to the most established initiatives. This ecosystem diversity backs the strength of European technological innovation, and maintaining the NGI initiative to provide structural support to software projects at the heart of worldwide innovation is key to enforce the sovereignty of a European infrastructure. Contrary to common perception, technical innovations often originate from European rather than North American programming communities, and are mostly initiated by small-scaled organizations.

Previous Cluster 4 allocated 27 millions euros to:
– “Human centric Internet aligned with values and principles commonly shared in Europe”;
– “A flourishing internet, based on common building blocks created within NGI, that enables better control of our digital life”;
– “A structured eco-system of talented contributors driving the creation of new internet commons and the evolution of existing internet commons.”

In the name of these challenges, more than 500 projects received NGI funding in the first 5 years, backed by 18 organizations managing these European funding consortia.

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Birmingham’s $125M ‘Oracle Disaster’ Blamed on Poor IT Project Management

It was “a catastrophic IT failure,” writes Computer Weekly. It was nearly two years ago that Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in Europe, “declared itself in financial distress” — effectively declaring bankruptcy — after the costs on an Oracle project costs ballooned from $25 million to around $125.5 million.

But Computer Weekly’s investigation finds signs that the program board and its manager wanted to go live in April of 2022 “regardless of the state of the build, the level of testing undertaken and challenges faced by those working on the programme.” One manager’s notes “reveal concerns that the program manager and steering committee could not be swayed, which meant the system went live despite having known flaws.”

Computer Weekly has seen notes from a manager at BCC highlighting a number of discrepancies in the Birmingham City Council report to cabinet published in June 2023, 14 months after the Oracle system went into production. The report stated that some critical elements of the Oracle system were not functioning adequately, impacting day-to-day operations. The manager’s comments reveal that this flaw in the implementation of the Oracle software was known before the system went live in April 2022… An insider at Birmingham City Council who has been closely involved in the project told Computer Weekly it went live “despite all the warnings telling them it wouldn’t work”….

Since going live, the Oracle system effectively scrambled financial data, which meant the council had no clear picture of its overall finances. The insider said that by January 2023, Birmingham City Council could not produce an accurate account of its spending and budget for the next financial year: “There’s no way that we could do our year-end accounts because the system didn’t work.”

A June 2023 report to cabinet “stated that due to issues with the council’s bank reconciliation system, a significant number of transactions had to be manually allocated to accounts rather than automatically via the Oracle system,” according to the article. But Computer Weekly has seen a 2019 presentation slide deck showing the council was already aware that Oracle’s out-of-the-box bank reconciliation system “did not handle mixed debtor/non-debtor bank files. The workaround suggested was either a lot of manual intervention or a platform as a service (PaaS) offering from Evosys, the Oracle implementation partner contracted by BCC to build the new IT system.”

The article ultimately concludes that “project management failures over a number of years contributed to the IT failure.”

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EU Sets Benchmark For Rest of the World With Landmark AI Laws

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Europe’s landmark rules on artificial intelligence will enter into force next month after EU countries endorsed on Tuesday a political deal reached in December, setting a potential global benchmark for a technology used in business and everyday life. The European Union’s AI Act is more comprehensive than the United States’ light-touch voluntary compliance approach while China’s approach aims to maintain social stability and state control. The vote by EU countries came two months after EU lawmakers backed the AI legislation drafted by the European Commission in 2021 after making a number of key changes. […]

The AI Act imposes strict transparency obligations on high-risk AI systems while such requirements for general-purpose AI models will be lighter.
It restricts governments’ use of real-time biometric surveillance in public spaces to cases of certain crimes, prevention of terrorist attacks and searches for people suspected of the most serious crimes. The new legislation will have an impact beyond the 27-country bloc, said Patrick van Eecke at law firm Cooley. “The Act will have global reach. Companies outside the EU who use EU customer data in their AI platforms will need to comply. Other countries and regions are likely to use the AI Act as a blueprint, just as they did with the GDPR,” he said, referring to EU privacy rules.

While the new legislation will apply in 2026, bans on the use of artificial intelligence in social scoring, predictive policing and untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage will kick in in six months once the new regulation enters into force. Obligations for general purpose AI models will apply after 12 months and rules for AI systems embedded into regulated products in 36 months. Fines for violations range from $8.2 million or 1.5% of turnover to 35 million euros or 7% of global turnover depending on the type of violations.

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European Parliament Bans Amazon From Its Premises

Longtime Slashdot reader Kant shares a report from Euractiv: The European Parliament decided to ban Amazon representatives from accessing its buildings on Tuesday (February 27), due to multiple events where the global retailing giant did not attend meetings requested by members of the European Parliament, the European Parliament press service confirmed Euractiv. “In line with rule 123/3 and at the request of the [Employment and Social Affairs] Committee, the Quaestors have authorized the Secretary General [Alessandro Chiocchetti] to withdraw the long-term access badges of the interest representatives of Amazon.” It is now the responsibility of the secretary general to concretely initiate the process of withdrawing their badges and to determine the duration of the ban, a European Parliament source close to the matter told Euractiv.

According to the EMPL chair Dragos Pislaru, who signed the letter, the US e-commerce company refuses to attend more than one meeting with EU lawmakers to discuss the condition of Amazon workers. Four cases are mentioned in the letter. The first occurred in May 2021, when Amazon did not attend a parliamentary committee meeting on “Amazon attacks on fundamental workers’ rights and freedoms: freedom of assembly and association, and the right to collective bargain and action.” The second event concerns the refusal by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to attend an exchange of views with EU lawmakers — instead, the company sent a written answer. The last two episodes happened in December 2023 and January 2024. In the former event, Amazon refused access to its facilities in German and Poland to a MEP, while on the latter, the company did not attend another parliamentary committee meeting dedicated to Amazon workers’ conditions. In a statement to Euractiv, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We are very disappointed with this decision, as we want to engage constructively with policymakers. […] Our commitment continues despite this decision. Amazon regularly participates in activities organized by the European Parliament and other EU institutions — including Parliamentary hearings — and we remain committed to participating in balanced, constructive dialogue on issues that affect European citizens.”

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EU to Fine Apple $500M+ for Stifling Music Competitors Like Spotify

“Apple will reportedly have to pay around €500 million (about $539 million USD) in the EU,” reports the Verge, “for stifling competition against Apple Music on the iPhone.
Financial Times reported this morning that the fine comes after regulators in Brussels, Belgium investigated a Spotify complaint that Apple prevented apps from telling users about cheaper alternatives to Apple’s music service…. The EU whittled its objections down to oppose Apple’s refusal to let developers even link out to their own subscription sign-ups within their apps — a policy that Apple changed in 2022 following regulatory pressure in Japan.

$500 million may sound like a lot, but a much bigger fine of close to $40 billion (or 10 percent of Apple’s annual global turnover) was on the table when the EU updated its objections last year. Apple was charged over a billion dollars in 2020, but French authorities dropped that to about $366 million after the company appealed.
The Verge cites an Apple spokesperson who said a year ago that the EU case “has no merit.”

Reuters that the EU’s fine “is expected to be announced early next month, the Financial Times said.”

More from Politico

The fine would be the EU’s first ever against Apple and is expected to be announced early next month, according to the FT report. It is the result of a European Commission antitrust probe into whether Apple’s “anti-steering” requirements breach the bloc’s abuse of dominance rules, harming music consumers “who may end up paying more” for apps… The Commission will rule that Apple’s actions are illegal and against EU competition rules, according to the report.
“The EU executive will ban Apple’s practice of barring music services from letting users know of cheaper alternatives outside the App Store, according to the newspaper.”

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Apple Confirms iOS 17.4 Removes Home Screen Web Apps In the EU

Apple has now offered an explanation for why iOS 17.4 removes support for Home Screen web apps in the European Union. Spoiler: it’s because of the Digital Markets Act that went into effect last August. 9to5Mac reports: Last week, iPhone users in the European Union noticed that they were no longer able to install and run web apps on their iPhone’s Home Screen in iOS 17.4. Apple has added a number of features over the years to improve support for progressive web apps on iPhone. For example, iOS 16.4 allowed PWAs to deliver push notifications with icon badges. One change in iOS 17.4 is that the iPhone now supports alternative browser engines in the EU. This allows companies to build browsers that don’t use Apple’s WebKit engine for the first time. Apple says that this change, required by the Digital Markets Act, is why it has been forced to remove Home Screen web apps support in the European Union.

Apple explains that it would have to build an “entirely new integration architecture that does not currently exist in iOS” to address the “complex security and privacy concerns associated with web apps using alternative browser engines.” This work “was not practical to undertake given the other demands of the DMA and the very low user adoption of Home Screen web apps,” Apple explains. “And so, to comply with the DMA’s requirements, we had to remove the Home Screen web apps feature in the EU.” “EU users will be able to continue accessing websites directly from their Home Screen through a bookmark with minimal impact to their functionality,” Apple continues.

It’s understandable that Apple wouldn’t offer support for Home Screen web apps for third-party browsers. But why did it also remove support for Home Screen web apps for Safari? Unfortunately, that’s another side effect of the Digital Markets Act. The DMA requires that all browsers have equality, meaning that Apple can’t favor Safari and WebKit over third-party browser engines. Therefore, because it can’t offer Home Screen web apps support for third-party browsers, it also can’t offer support via Safari. […] iOS 17.4 is currently available to developers and public beta testers, and is slated for a release in early March. The full explanation was published on Apple’s developer website today.

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Germany Quits Nuclear Power, Closes Its Final Three Plants

“Germany’s final three nuclear power plants close their doors on Saturday,” reports CNN, “marking the end of the country’s nuclear era that has spanned more than six decades….”
[D]espite last-minute calls to keep the plants online amid an energy crisis, the German government has been steadfast. “The position of the German government is clear: nuclear power is not green. Nor is it sustainable,” Steffi Lemke, Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment and Consumer Protection and a Green Party member, told CNN.”We are embarking on a new era of energy production,” she said.

The closure of the three plants — Emsland, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim — represents the culmination of a plan set in motion more than 20 years ago. But its roots are even older. In the 1970s, a strong anti-nuclear movement in Germany emerged. Disparate groups came together to protest new power plants, concerned about the risks posed by the technology and, for some, the link to nuclear weapons. The movement gave birth to the Green Party, which is now part of the governing coalition…

For critics of Germany’s policy, however, it’s irrational to turn off a low-carbon source of energy as the impacts of the climate crisis intensify. “We need to keep existing, safe nuclear reactors operating while simultaneously ramping up renewables as fast as possible,” Leah Stokes, a professor of climate and energy policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told CNN. The big risk, she said, is that fossil fuels fill the energy gap left by nuclear. Reductions in Germany’s nuclear energy since Fukushima have been primarily offset by increases in coal, according to research published last year.

Germany plans to replace the roughly 6% of electricity generated by the three nuclear plants with renewables, but also gas and coal…. Now Germany must work out what do with the deadly, high-level radioactive waste, which can remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.

CNN also notes how other countries approach nuclear power:

Denmark passed a resolution in the 1980s not to construct nuclear power plants
Finland opened a new nuclear plant last year
Switzerland voted in 2017 to phase out nuclear power
France, which gets about 70% of its power from nuclear, is planning six new reactors.
Italy closed its last reactors in 1990

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EU Agrees To the World’s Largest Carbon Border Tax

Longtime Slashdot reader WindBourne writes: EU is creating a tariff on certain imported goods based on their CO2 emissions that went into production and transportation. While many have opposed this, others have been correctly pointing out that little would change until nations started charging other nations for their polluting the world. In some ways, this already has a number of attributes going for it. With Kyoto, Europe forced that emissions from bio would count at the point where it was harvested and not where it was burned/utilized. This was because Europe is a major importer of bio products for heating and electricity. With this tariff, it will apply any use of bio, including H2, at point of usage, not of production.

What remains to be seen is:
1) How they will apply it to size (Nation? State? City?)?
2) What data will be used (Information from the local government? Satellite?)?
3) How the data will be normalized (GDP? Per capita?)?
4) How to calculate emissions per good (Total emissions? Worst item? Certain parts?)?
This will no doubt cause a number of nations to scream about it, as well as smaller nations, but hopefully, more nations will join in as well. Looks like the world is finally going to get serious about stopping greenhouse gas emissions. “The measure will apply first to iron and steel, cement, aluminum, fertilizers, electricity production and hydrogen before being extended to other goods,” notes CNN. “Under the new mechanism, companies will need to buy certificates to cover emissions generated by the production of goods imported into the European Union based on calculations linked to the EU’s own carbon price.”

Details of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism can be found here.

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